By Richard Winters
My Rating: 8 out of 10
4-Word Review: They are all greedy.
Every Friday this month I will review the Top 5 best and most outrageous black/dark comedies from the 70’s. There were many to choose from, but these five have stood the test of time and remain as potent and hilarious as they were when first released. Today’s film was written by Joe Orton who died before ever seeing his play made into a movie and despite being top-notch in every aspect remains unjustly overlooked and hard-to-find.
The story deals with Dennis and Hal (Hywell Bennett, Ray Holder) two friends who decide to rob a bank next to a funeral home and hide the stolen money inside the coffin of Hal’s late mother. Problems ensue when Inspector Truscott (Richard Attenborough) starts to suspect the boys have something to do with it and incorporates brutal interrogation tactics to get the truth out of them. Then there is Nurse Fay (Lee Remick) who may have had something to do with Hal’s mother’s death and is inclined to want a piece of the action. All of this occurs inside Hal’s house, which is also a bed and breakfast run by Hal’s Father McLeavy (Milo O’Shea) who remains oblivious to all of the shenanigans and only worried about getting a decent burial for his departed wife.
The film is fast and funny and retains all of Orton’s dark and acidic wit. It is full of one-liners, sight gags, odd characters, and bizarre, unexpected comical twists, with ninety-eight percent of it being clever and funny. The best is the funeral procession when Dennis, who is driving a hearse that is carrying the deceased, finds out that the vehicle has lost its brakes and careens down the streets at high speeds with all the other cars in the procession try to keep up with it while driving equally fast.
Director Silvio Narizzano shows a terrific grasp on the material. Unlike Entertaining Mr. Sloane the only other film adaption of Orton’s work this film has a terrific pace that starts with a bang and never lets up. Narizzano also infuses a lot of imaginative camera angles, edits, and set design to give the thing a nice edgy, off-color feel. Outdoor action is nicely balanced with the indoor scenes to create a good cinematic feel and it never seems like a filmed stage play. There are some interesting homoerotic overtones as well including having Dennis and Hal blow a hole in the bank wall, crawl through it and take the money, then crawl back out and stuff it into the coffin while being completely naked.
Remick has one of her most interesting and unique performances in her already illustrious career as she is quite amusing looking almost like Marilyn Monroe with her dyed platinum blonde hair and authentic sounding British accent. Attenborough is memorable playing against type. Usually he is best at meek and passive types, but here he almost steals the film as the aggressive Inspector with a Hitler mustache. His best moment comes when he picks up a glass eye from the floor and in one brief second sticks out his tongue and licks it, which is done in vivid close-up.
The bouncy, psychedelic score by Steve Ellis helps give the proceedings attitude and personality. Why this film has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray is a mystery. The humor remains sharp and a whole new throng of fans could be acquired if they were just able to see it.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Released: May 1, 1970
Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes
Director: Silvio Narizzano
Studio: British Lion Film Corporation