"Orton's dialogue is wonderfully pithy as always and provides ample entertainment, but seems to box in some of the actors, who do little to reach beyond it."

Police corruption, sexual impropriety and hypocrisy in the Catholic Church may be pretty routine subjects for films today, but in 1970 they still retained some power to shock. More so in 1965, when Joe Orton's play first appeared on the London stage; indeed, this adaptation restores details censored in the original, though a fresh set of censors obliged it to hold back on a few things itself. It's the story of young bank robbers Hal (Roy Holder) and Dennis (Hywel Bennett), who take advantage of he death of Hal's mother to rob a bank next to a funeral parlour and hide the cash in the coffin. Unluckily for them, they capture the attention of a police detective with a brutal approach to extracting information, and keeping their loot safe becomes more and more complicated.

With a colour palette liable to make some viewers cry and an appreciation of middle class vulgarity that's perfectly suited to Orton's work, Silvio Narizzano's film helped the Seventies start the way they wished to go on. The Summer of Love was over. Hal and Dennis, it is implied, were lovers and still engage in sex with other people together, but the carefree days of boyhood are over. Dennis wants to get married and has his sights set on the blonde bombshell, frequently widowed Catholic nurse (Lee Remick) who took care of Hal's mother. She, however, is only interested in men who are rich, and in this he has to compete with Hal's befuddled hotel-owning father (Milo O'Shea). The hippy values of the Sixties are giving way to a focus on cash that would, in time, beget Thatcherism and Reaganomics. Inspector Truscott (Richard Attenborough), used to giving orders, must face a changing world which, by more closely replicating his own values, risks depleting his powers.

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Truscott is undoubtedly the most interesting role, modeled in part on the then-infamous London detective Harold 'Tanky' Challenor, so it's unfortunate that he's slightly miscast. Attenborough gets to grips with the farce well enough but is missing some of the darkness important to the part; he gives it too much Professor Hammond and not enough Pinkie. Remick, however, is perfect as the nurse, and her sharp delivery restores the necessary edge to their scenes together. Elsewhere, capable but not remarkable performances are overshadowed by Anthony Pratt's full on art direction. Orton's dialogue is wonderfully pithy as always and provides ample entertainment, but seems to box in some of the actors, who do little to reach beyond it.

Despite these difficulties, there's a lot to enjoy in a film that makes no compromises whatsoever on style. An exuberant rendition of Orton's well structured farce, it might exhaust you but somewhere along the way you're likely to have a good time.

Reviewed on: 14 Sep 2017
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Two young men rob a bank and hide the money in the coffin of one's recently deceased mother, but the police are on their trail.

Director: Silvio Narizzano

Writer: Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, based on the play by Joe Orton

Starring: Lee Remick, Richard Attenborough, Hywel Bennett, Roy Holder, Dick Emery, Milo O'Shea

Year: 1970

Runtime: 101 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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