Sunday 15 December 2019

Russian around… Not Now, Comrade (1976)

OK, I watched this because Carol Hawkins is in it; is that so wrong? There are many British films from the seventies that fall under the “guilty pleasure” category as “sex comedies” a term that is usually a contra-indication in terms of both elements and content. Not Now, Comrade, to my surprise, proved to be a well-constructed farce, with a strong cast camping it up in style and plenty of humour. Granted Carol does give us plenty of “show” but it’s for comic effect and not (just) titillation if that’s an acceptable defence in 2019?

Written by Ray Cooney – who directed with Harold Snoad - it’s perhaps one of the more successful translations of his classic farces onto film and, largely based on one set, it does have the feel of a stage performance especially with the camera following the actors as they move from one understanding to the next. Cooney was hugely successful in the West End at the time and had 17 plays performed there including Run for Your Wife which ran for nine years. He made a number of film versions but not all were critically well-regarded…

Not Now, Comrade is not great art but it’s fun and allows so many character actors to indulge their comic chops even if their only wearing briefs and nipple tassels in Carol’s case.

Now, if you’re sitting comfortably, let’s sort out the plot… We start off at the Royal Albert Hall where a Russian ballet troop is meeting the press. Rudi Petrovyan (Lewis Fiander) is the star dancer and looks nervously at two KGB agents making sure he behaves. An attractive blonde burlesque dancer, Barbara Wilcox (Carol Hawkins) leaves her club and climbs into an open-top Triumph sportscar stripping off down to her work clothes as she speeds off to Kensington.

Beautiful Babs – that’s her name too! – parks up in Kensington Gore and runs over to perform a startling distraction in front of the ballet troop thereby allowing Rudi to make a break for it. He is supposed to climb into the boot of her car but, in the confusion, he gets into the boot of a Rolls Royce driven by a naval Commander Rimmington (Leslie Phillips, yay!!). Off sails Rimmington with Barbara in hot pursuit followed by the two Russian agents as the scene is set in Cooney style.

"Oh, I say... ding, dong." etc
The Commander parks up outside his country house and, as Barbra looks on, goes in to meet his daughter, Nancy played by the excellent Michele Dotrice. Watching Dotrice and Philips work you appreciate the skill involved in this particularly British genre; the trick is to keep a straight face but to be as earnest as possible, it’s real life just switched up a tad… and with fewer clothes, albeit not as few as you’d expect.

There follows many enjoyable near misses as Barbra tries to hide Rudi from Rimmington who is sent fishing only to return early by which time Nancy is in on the game and has enlisted her finance Gerry Buss (Ian Lavender). Among all these doings is the world-worn-down gardener Hoskins (Roy Kinnear) who’s confused already without the unnecessary complications of his “betters”.

Carol Hawkins and Lewis Fiander
Cooney plays Mr. Laver, a man from the ministry sent with a message for the Commander only to find Bob impersonating the father-in-law to be (who hasn’t met him). In all the commotion a Constable arrives played by Windsor Davies who, somewhat inevitably, ends up meeting with a cheeky guest, Bobby, played by his TV partner Don Estelle.

The top-quality cast is rounded off by the ageless June Whitfield as Janet Rimmington. Together they make the most out of a situation that in lesser hands could spin humourlessly out of control. But they know exactly how to play Conney’s lines and situations and Not Now Comrade surprises with genuinely funny moments and oodles of charm. It’s classy not rude.

Michelle Dotrice and Ian Lavender
Dusty Verdict: Funny and not sleazy, apart from that one chilly tasselled dance from the lovely Carol, this is well worth whiling away a rainy afternoon watching. See some of the cream of British stage actors working on film and be grateful.

The film is available on DVD and is also shown from time to time on Talking Pictures TV.

Ray Cooney, Ian Lavender and Carol Hawkins

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