Friday, December 20, 2013


I became something of a theatre geek at a young age, in the mid-60s when I was 9; living in Central Ohio, I didn't get much of a chance to see Broadway plays but I read a lot about them, mostly in the annual Best Plays series which included information about every Broadway and off-Broadway show of the season. I loved the title of this show, which was a hit in England and New York with Anthony Newley (co-author of the play and its songs), and I was intrigued by the description and photographs which led me to assume it was an almost avant-garde experiment in new theatre. This movie is essentially a filming of the stage production, including reaction shots of an audience, and I'm afraid what might have seemed new and different back then suffers now, not just due to the 40+ years which have elapsed, but also to a fairly uninspiring translation of this highly theatrical piece to the screen, and to the absence of Newley.

The show is essentially a series of blackout sketches and songs about the life of an allegorical "everyman" figure in mime make-up named Littlechap (Tony Tanner) who is also the leader of an acting troupe (mostly women wearing circus costumes). We see them rehearse for a bit, then put on this play about Littlechap's life. He is born, educated, gets a job, gets the boss's daughter (Millicent Martin) pregnant, marries her, and keeps advancing at work even as he drifts into a vaguely unsatisfying family life. Every so often, he yells, "Stop the world!"; the action freezes and the film goes to black & white while he indulges in a monologue looking right into the camera. He also complains quite a bit about being "lumbered," that is, tricked or trapped, usually by women. Eventually, Littlechap fathers more children, takes mistresses, gets a seat in Parliament, and in old age, looks back and sees how unfulfilling his seemingly successful life has been. Tanner tries too hard and quickly becomes rather grating—most reviews of the movie indicate that he was a poor choice to replace Newley. I like Martin, playing not just his wife but all of his mistresses. A couple of the songs, "What Kind of Fool Am I?" and "Gonna Build a Mountain," were standards in the 60s and 70s. I'm not against filmed stage plays—in fact, I often enjoy them—but this one doesn’t work, failing to convey whatever was special about the original show that made it a hit. [TCM]

No comments: