By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: An absurd little movie.
The Groomkirby family is one really absurd bunch. The father (Eric Sykes) wants to build a replica of the Old Baily courtroom in his living room and then have a trial, involving his son Kirby (Jonathan Miller) as the accused, reenacted. His daughter Sylvia (Julia Foster) wishes that she were an ape so that her arms would be longer and discusses this at length with her mother (Alison Leggatt). Kirby steals weight machines, which voices the person’s body weight, off the city streets and brings them back to the family’s attic were he then converts them into machines that sing. There’s also Aunt Mildred (Mona Washbourne) who thinks she’s waiting for a train that never comes as well as Mrs. Gantry (Peggy Mount) who’s paid to come over and eat the family’s unwanted leftovers.
The film is based on the stage play of the same name written by N.F. Simpson and was labeled as being ‘A farce in a new dimension’. John Cleese is purportedly a big fan of the movie and credits it as inspiring many of the absurd ideas that they used in their later Monty Python sketches. It was also directed by Peter Yates who went on to direct such quintessential hits as Bullitt, Breaking Away, and Year of the Comet.
The film certainly does have its share of funny and highly original moments. One of my favorite scenes is where the father carts the props that he needs to build his courtroom down a busy street of London using nothing but a wheel barrow and holding up traffic while he does it. Kirby’s ability to make the weight machines sing and sound like a genuine chorus is fun also as well as the climactic courtroom segment in which a myriad of comically absurd arguments, testimony, motions and reasoning is used until it becomes almost mind bending.
Unfortunately it all gets just a little too weird. Normally I’m a fan of the offbeat, but there still needs to be something to anchor it down and this film lacks it. The dialogue, characters and storyline are so progressively strange that it becomes downright nonsensical. The court case loses its edge as well because the father is somehow able to recreate it and the people in it in some magical way using a machine where kidnapping a magistrate and lawyers and forcing them perform in their makeshift court of law would’ve been funnier.
The movie will certainly satisfy those with inkling for the offbeat and the film seems intent to push the absurdity as far as it possibly can with a cast primed to pull it off, but it ends up being too weird for its own good and parts of it are confusing and hard to get into.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: March 2, 1965
Runtime: 1Hour 20Minutes
Director: Peter Yates
Studio: United Artists
Available: None at this time
Watched this last night on Prime.
My dad saw this decades ago and still has fond memories of it, and I can see why – it’s so strange and so British that it must have made quite an impression at the time. I do like the courtroom sequence a lot, because it allows for the sharpest contrast between the absurd and the logical.
But a lot of it feels too scattered and random to really work even as absurdism, and so it falls short of being a hidden gem for me. I’d probably go 6/10.
Also – Peter Yates had one weird career, didn’t he? From this, to Bullitt, to Breaking Away, to the Dresser, to that Don Quixote with John Lithgow.