All at Sea, called Barnacle Bill in England, is an Ealing comedy starring Alec Guinness, but there’s a reason you never hear it mentioned in the same breath with Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Lavender Hill Mob, The Man in the White Suit, or The Lady Killers—except in the hopeful trailer, which claims it’s the best of them all. It’s a nice, modest, and pleasant little effort that clearly comes from the same sensibilities without being as inspired.
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Vice and Virtue is a perfect example of how Roger Vadim applied the concept of “seduction” to aesthetics as well as story, providing an operatic exercise in the transgressive and kinky with a veneer of literary cachet. He’d already done this with his modernised Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1960), which is possibly the best of several films from that novel (Milos Forman’s Valmont is also excellent). In the resoundingly artificial and allegorical Vice and Virtue, the high concept is to update the Marquis de Sade’s Justine to Nazi-occupied France at the end of WWII.
Two British comedies with gap-toothed comedian Terry-Thomas are now available on demand from Warner Archive. There’s not much to say about Kill or Cure, a whimsical whodunit with large doses of slapstick, except that it’s amusing. Our hero plays a detective who goes undercover at a health spa and subjects himself to various indignities before bumbling to the solution of his client’s murder. It’s not a masterpiece of hilarity, but it gets the job done, with help from Eric Sykes, Dennis Price, Moira Redmond, Lionel Jeffries and Ronnie Barker.
The Cossacks is allegedly based on Leo Tolstoy’s novel, but Frances Marion’s adaptation is pure Hollywood. The Cossacks are described as “simple as children”, a society where the men go off to fight Turks and come home to carouse while women work the fields. The chief, called the Ataman (Ernest Torrence), is ashamed to have a “woman man” for a son. Lukashka (John Gilbert) lounges at home with his shirt open, helps his mother lift heavy burdens, and doesn’t bother going to war. It’s just a phase. When his manhood is humiliated sufficiently by the whole village, he proves himself in the latest skirmish by killing ten Turks and discovering blood isn’t so bad.
“Aren’t you overdoing the local color bit?” asks a pretty woman of the French reporter as he poses a mute housekeeper in picturesque Spanish peasant garb before a log on the beach. The answer is “yes”, but you work with what you’ve got, and this American-Spanish co-production had four things to its credit.
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