Fast and Loose

Fast and Loose. Group Film Productions 1954.
Fast and Loose. Group Film Productions 1954.

Before watching the movie: Automatically recommended to me based on titles like The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown and Monkey Business, this appears to be somewhere between manners comedy and code-compliant titillation farce. A happily married man and a happily married woman who used to date get separated from their spouses, have to share a room at an inn, and find themselves in increasingly compromising situations.

What caught my attention are the words “British” and “Farce”. And Stanley Holloway, although I’m not sure if I’ve actually seen him in anything, or if his name is just close to Sterling Holloway. None of the other people involved ring any bells, although apparently Kay Kendall was a Name at the time. I’m just not familiar enough with that era, most likely. After watching the movie:

Peter and Barbara Wickham prepare to board a train for a weekend vacation, but before Peter can board he bumps into Carol Hankin, an old friend now married, who is also bound for the same destination, and their conversation causes them both to miss the train. Barbara sees Peter meet Carol and is suspicious but doesn’t quite know what to think about it, only sending a telegram to her mother Mrs. Crabb and returning home at first opportunity. Meanwhile, Peter and Carol, having missed the train, return to the Wickham apartment long enough to hire a car in order to reunite with their spouses and be seen by the maid, who reports to Mrs. Crabb that the two left in a car with luggage. The Crabbs are able to learn that the hired car broke down in the backwater village of Maiden Blotton and the two left it on foot for the nearest inn. It turns out the only inn has only one room available and in order to appease the innkeeper, Peter and Carol must keep up the appearance of being married to each other. Barbara intends to go find them in the morning, but Mrs. Crabb never trusted Peter and is determined to get there that night to catch him in the act.

Oddly, while this starts off slowly, the beginning held me the best. The dialogue is full of wit throughout, but the setup is methodical and everyone is a pleasure to watch, as the only characters not played broadly are Peter, Carol, and Barbara. The whole of the cast outside of them are the sort of terrifically entertaining character actors Britain excels at producing.

Unfortunately, the whole thing bogs down once night falls, as the hard part of the setup is done but there’s an entire second act to fill before the payoff. Peter has a truly miserable night trying to cleave to the letter of being a gentleman, but has proved to be weak-willed and insufferably whiny. I can see quite clearly that the predicament is uncomfortable, but he not only provides a running commentary on how dreadful it is, but seems to be going out of his way to make it worse. Meanwhile, the plot keeps cutting back to the Crabbs being infinitely delayed on their way to Maiden Blotton, which also drags on too long. Things pick up somewhat once everything finally bottoms out, but the monotony has taken its toll.

The strength of the dialogue suggested to me that this started out as a play, but as it went on and had a wide variety of scenes and locations that didn’t seem to be the tradtional “open it up with a superfluous outdoor scene”, I decided it couldn’t have been. But in fact it was. This is the second film based on the place “A Cuckoo in the Nest”. Judging by the summary on Wikipedia, it appears to follow the plot fairly closely, but mixes the scenes more evenly, apparently adding the Crabbs’ misadventures on the road to give more screen time to Holloway. It also looks like it has a more convincing solution.

I think the best way to describe the fault with this movie is that it has loads of fun characters populating plot-driven comedy. Neither get their due. Most stage adaptations feel not quite at home on the screen, but in this the movie parts and stage parts completely fail to mesh. It’s rare to meet a movie that’s less than the sum of its parts, but this just didn’t get there. I’d rather have seen it on stage.

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