Sunday, 25 October 2020

See Dudley Play… 30 Is a Dangerous Age, Cynthia (1968)


“… the most exhilarating part of it all was the music, mainly because I could indulge quite wantonly in all sorts of styles that were variously required for the different parts of the film.” Dudley Moore for the 1969 issue of the soundtrack 

One thing that gets my goat is the word “dated”. What does it really mean? Are people saying that just because something looks so much “of its time” that that’s a bad thing and also, shame on it for not having the foresight to take on board the sensibilities of future decades, for making the wrong choices about design and tone that would be just toe-curling in, say, fifty years’ time.

On a discussion board, one earnest fellow argued that Pink Floyd’s See Emily Play seemed to him to be “locked in the sixties, as psychedelic pop-rock…” but this is to view it in an un-historical way purely in the context of its relationship to a “now” it could never have seen coming. Syd’s Floyd were of their time – just as you and I are of ours – and you can still enjoy them for their musicality and the fact that they represent certain aspects of cultural style and musical development. Some of their choices may still be well regarded as they represent strands that not only influenced modern music but which also remain popular in of themselves. For instance, we still have indie guitar bands that play in similar ways even if they do not revere Syd Barrett, they’re making music that shares spirit and technique. 

Any view on “dated” is purely subjective but you can’t get away from the fact that music made in 1967 was for 1967 and not intended to be still fresh and timeless in 2020. Yet as an emblem of progressive rock from that period The Pink Floyd remain outstanding and, on that level, I’m glad their creations are “dated” if you see what I mean?

Suzy Kendall in a psychedelic scene

How does this apply to Dudley Moore’s 30 Is a Dangerous Age, Cynthia then I hear you ask? Well, very much so in terms of the style of comedy as well as the fashions on display in terms of clothing, humour and the whole mise-en-scène: it is undeniably of its time and therefore 52 years “dated” in relation to now. So, I watched it because I wanted a film of this vintage, one that showed Dudley Moore striking out on his own without Mr Cooke and, yes, because it featured the sublime Suzy Kendall, then married to Dudley Moore. I also watched because I have the soundtrack to the film on vinyl – a mono original pressing from 1968 – and because this film features The Dudley Moore Trio in one superb scene, playing live and loving it.

For those who always feel somehow sorry for Dudley Moore, and that he was in some way overshadowed by his more edgy partner, here I present is the case against: one, he was the better actor, two he was a top-rank composer and musician and three, Suzy Kendall! Moore was over-laden with ability and whilst this film is not a five-star work of genius it is likeable, stylish and still funny representing that Oxbridge comedy that, Beyond the Fringe – and Footlights – is still informing today’s comedians, writers and film-makers not to mention our, seriously un-funny, politicians.

Dudley and the Trio

As it happens, in the context of ability versus achievement, the film is very much concerned with the illusion of false targets. Dudley plays an aspiring composer, Rupert Street (which leads up into Soho and many a club and bar…) who plays jazz for a living and who is determined to tick off certain key life goals before he turns 30. We see him at the start of the picture trying to arrange his marriage date before he has even found a woman to propose to. The registrar, played by Frank Thornton (latterly Captain Peacock) throws him out onto the streets of Marylebone where he imagines a leggy dolly bird as his, much taller, bride.

Rupert works at Jock’s Box run by Jock McCue (the excellent Duncan Macrae!) but he has agreed to write his first musical if, that is, he can get the whole thing written in the few months before, you guessed it, his 30th birthday. He’s manged by Oscar (Eddie Foy, Jr.), an old stager with a can-do attitude and carrying the ever-present threat of “hoofing” and, whilst the pressure is on, if Handel could The Messiah in six weeks, surely Rupert can cobble together a musical. Cue a drift into a dream of bewigged musical and marital success with accompanying musical pastiche that Moore was so adept at performing. He arrives back at his flat still in character, reading a copy of his buddy’s Private Eye (Peter Cook being one of the founding fathers) now there’s something that has remained current!

The sublime Suzy and Dud

Moore was 32 at the time and had missed this target himself by two years when he married the sublime Suzy Kendall who co-stars in the film as his seemingly unobtainable and impossibly lovely next-door neighbour Louise. He meets her as she’s having a telephone argument with Paul (Nicky Henson… always so convincing in these parts!) the latest in a long line of men who’s looks promise far more than their morality delivers. Dudley’s smitten but surely out of his league… but he’s soon daydreaming of Louise as a bride and himself as a shorter Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik, ready to whisk her away to his tent for an in-tents experience, or maybe Fred Astaire, or a cowboy or a stock-car racer? 

Rupert’s imagination runs riot, but Louise invites him in for tea where he discovers that she is an artist who also teaches. He plays her one of his songs, which starts off with a fee upper class introduction before – in his head – they are transported to an ultra-modern discotheque, surrounded by appreciative scenesters as he bellows out an r n’ b (sixties style) song – The Real Stuff - and Louise go-go dances. Back in the room, they embrace and the improbable seems to be happening. 

But still there is Paul and an altercation outside Jock’s Box leaves Rupert with a broken arm – and you should see the other fella… - which is set in plaster at 90 degrees making it impossible to play. With the pressure mounting from impresario Victor (Peter Bayliss) and his mysterious backers the Honourable Gavin Hopton (John Wells who co-scripted) and Captain Gore-Taylor (Jonathan Routh).

Old Hollywood in Victor's pad

Slightly discouraged by Louise’s need to find her own career path and the ever-dwindling timeline, Rupert heads off to Dublin for inspiration, hundreds of coffees and some more fantasy. Finally, he meets a mysterious story teller (Micheál MacLiammóir) who tells him of The Golden Legend of Erin, an Irish fairy tale he visualises as featuring himself and Louise with Jock playing the evil baddie who tries to separate the lovers. 

He returns home and production starts but he now needs to find Louise who has seemingly disappeared in Birmingham. Will the lovers be re-united, will the play be any good, will John Bird turn up as northern PI with a Sam Spade fixation, Herbert Greenslade, years before Albert Finney in Gumshoe? Well, you’ll have to watch it to find out!

Dusty verdict: Released in March 1968 it already feels more like a 1966 film than a 1967 one, fashions and mood were changing so quickly and unevenly. It is a charming film that retains its humorous appeal thanks to both leads’ watchability and Dudley’s comedic restraint; he’s got more natural instinct here than many and his satire is always informed and gently effective.

His music is indeed among the best parts of the film from the delicious lines of Waltz for Suzy – proof enough of the couple’s affection even without the obvious chemistry between the two – to the quasi-orchestral Legend theme for the Irish tale. The score is an eclectic mix from the splendid folk pastiche of Madrigal to the big-band moods of The Detective, John Bird couldn’t have hoped for a more impressive musical signature. But what I enjoyed most of all was seeing Dud performing Rupert’s Romp, with his actual trio – Chris Karan on drums and Pete McGurk on double bass – at Jock’s Box. You can see them having an absolute blast and Dudley’s smile is the warmest and most genuine in the film and so is the watching Louise/Suzie… this is what they both knew he loved doing the most.

Joseph McGrath directs effectively and his supporting cast are superb with excellent work from Birkenhead’s finest Patricia Routledge and Larne’s Harry Towb as Rupert’s landlords as well as cameos from Clive Dunn as a Doctor (not butcher…) and Derek Farr as a TV announcer.

30 Is a Dangerous Age, Cynthia is sadly not available on digital release which is a shame as it’s a fine example of Dudley doing what he did best.




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