Appropriately enough for what feels very much like a Monty Python member’s first solo album, Graham Chapman’s The Odd Job was released via a division of the Charisma record company (famous for prog legends Van Der Graaf Generator and Genesis). It’s an odd blend of mainstream sit-com and black comedy featuring David Jason playing Ronnie Barker… or at least the kind of character his hero and mentor specialised in.
Chapman originally wrote the story as part of a series of half hour TV comedy one-offs for Ronnie Barker in 1971 and here revived the idea as a full length feature directed with aplomb by Peter Medak (who also directed The Ruling Class) and including Mr Janson in a reprise of the titular role.
|Graham Chapman and Diana Quick|
He stars as civil servant Arthur Harris who comes home to his well-upholstered flat to find that his marriage has gone sour. His wife Fiona (Diana Quick) is packing to leave and surprised by his early return, reveals the frustrations of years that led her to this moment. She’s bored and repressed – they have taken each other for granted, they shout but no longer talk...
|The future national treasure in action|
Fiona walks out leaving Arthur devastated with just enough time to throw his wife’s pot plant out of the window much to the surprise of his attractive neighbour Angie (Carolyn Seymour) four storeys below. Distraught, Arthur can only think of ending it all and there follows a sequence of half-hearted attempts culminating in a failed electrocution: he can’t quite reach the switch. A knock on the door reveals a funny little man in a leather coat, motorbike head gear and horn-rimmed spectacles (Janson) asking if there are any odd jobs…
Arthur asks if this would include switching on the light for his suicide but this doesn’t really work out. But it turns out that the mild-mannered jack of all trades is actually a master of murder and he agrees to “hit” Arthur: to take him by surprise as he goes about his daily life and to put him out of his misery.
Meanwhile Fiona has gone to their friend Tony Sloane (Simon Williams) for refuge but, spurning Tony’s advances, soon realises she has made a mistake and still loves Arthur.
Meanwhile Arthur faces an offer of his own as Angie invites him in for a drink which quickly advances to a more substantial offer and yet, somehow, Arthur resists the temptation leaving Angie alone with her cuddly toy dog…
|Carolyn Seymour and Graham Chapman|
So, love is not lost for the Harris’ and there is soon reconciliation as Fiona brings her bags back home. But, there’s still a problem: the Odd Job Man has been set to kill and Arthur has no way of contacting him to call the job off.
There follows much calamity as the Man makes various unsuccessful attempts to complete his contract only for Arthur to narrowly escape either through luck or judgement. Collateral damage includes the caretaker (George Innes) been poisoned by cyanide-laced milk, a group of old ladies on a pleasure cruise being machine gunned, a policeman drowned driving Arthur's sabotaged Rover and the odd gangster or two being blown up in the toilets.
|The ex-Caretaker and Arthur's Rover|
The Police get involved in the form of Inspector Black (Edward Hardwicke) and Sergeant Mull (a young Bill Paterson) along with a host of British character actors as events career towards the seemingly inevitable outcomes. But Chapman has an underlying message about love and life that doesn’t allow for easy outcomes…
Dusty verdict: A likeable comedy with good performances, notably from Quick and Chapman who makes you forget to anticipate the Pythonesque whiplash (“He’s not the Messiah; he’s a very naughty boy…” etc).
Excellent support from Simon Williams as the conflicted best friend as well as Carolyn Seymour with her cuddly toy.
Then there’s that David Jason chap as the odd, Odd Job Man: whatever became of him?
The Odd Job doesn’t appear to be available on DVD anywhere so I’m stuck with the old VHS. Catch it if you can and don't forget to love the one you’re with…