Film

Terry-Thomas Fills in the Gaps (of Comedy)

The famously gap-toothed comedian Terry-Thomas features in two new so-so Warner Archive restorations.


Kill or Cure

Director: George Pollock
Cast: Terry-Thomas, Eric Sykes
Distributor: Warner Archive
Year: 1962
US DVD release date: 2015-01-30

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.

Terry-Thomas has only a supporting role in The Wild Affair, an intriguing example of what I call a "no-sex comedy", a species in which everyone threatens to have sex but nobody does. It's mainly an American genre, but here's a British example from the mid-'60s, even though the Brits were making movies about people who really did have guilt-free sex, like Tom Jones and the James Bond series. Still, the supposedly mod, swinging British comedies of the era have a puritanical hangover and can be more glum and sober than you'd guess from their packaging. See Alfie, Georgy Girl, Morgan, The Knack and How to Get It, and many others for examples.

DVD: The Wild Affair

Film: The Wild Affair

Director: John Krish

Cast: Nancy Kwan, Terry-Thomas

Year: 1963

Rating: Not rated

US DVD release date: 2015-01-29

Distributor: Warner Archive

Rating: 5

Extras rating: N/A

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/t/thewildaffair_dvdblog_dvdart200.jpg

The Wild Affair centers on the last workday in the life of Marjorie Lee (Nancy Kwan), a 20-year-old virgin a few days away from marrying Craig (Jimmy Logan), currently hung over from his stag party. Marjorie works as a secretary for IT Perfume, which sells sexual attraction pheromonally and advertorially. She's afraid of getting hitched to a dullard (and he looks it) after missing out on the youthful adventures promised in the ads and the culture at large. Every time she looks in the mirror, she sees a sultry, heavily eyelashed alter ego called Sandra, who dares her to be naughty at this afternoon's Christmas office party. Thus, she literalizes the cultural and cinematic doubleness about sex, which promotes and punishes it at the same time.

If you're familiar with movies of this teasing type, you know the plot ultimately put its moral money on the "old-fashioned" virtues -- or, as one character puts it, "all in the window and nothing in the shop". (Not unlike the film itself, with its salacious poster art.) She spends the movie avoiding Craig and trying to be sophisticated, especially when she's used as a model for a new "vampire" makeup that causes everyone to stare at her in shock. Unfortunately, we can't tell any difference in a black and white movie, except that her lashes are longer.

Then, in the increasingly wild party that takes up most of the running time, in which everyone gets sozzled on booze she paid for with her bonus. Our shilly-shallying heroine runs away from any number of come-ons until, in what is supposed to be her moral triumph, she gives in to that part of her that's disgusted by all the unbuttoned goings-on. She gives in by not giving in. She positively erupts in restraint.

There's not much to the movie and it shouldn't be on anyone's can't-miss list, but it's interesting for a few reasons. First, it's a refreshing bit of casting for Kwan, who doesn't play a Chinese but rather a middle-class English girl of clearly occidental parentage. Once we digest this fact, we stop thinking about it. Second, it reveals its cultural moment in the reactionary, arguably hypocritical vibe discussed above, where we get to leer at all the randy gits, especially Terry-Thomas as the married but hands-on boss, and wag our finger at them too. We're told that all these people aren't really happy (despite conveying a reasonable facsimile of it), except for the young man who's wife is giving birth to their first child, though apparently it's too much to expect him to be at the hospital.

Third, and most interestingly, this trifle is very smoothly directed by John Krish, who scripted from William Sansom's novel The Last Hours of Sandra Lee. The black and white design by John Box (who did this in between Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago) is very sleek, while superb cinematographer Arthur Ibbetson helps Krish capture a shiny, giddy, claustrophobic circus in a manner that keeps everything clear and visually compelling. Kudos also to editors Russell Lloyd (who worked a lot with John Huston and did the brilliant Return from the Ashes) and Norman Savage (also on his way to Zhivago) for keeping a nothing-happens movie moving.

There isn't much to think about but plenty to see as the camera weaves with aplomb down chic corridors crowded with mirrors and human flotsam. Krish, who had a documentary background and continued to pursue nonfiction films in an award-winning career, followed The Wild Affair  with the cult horror item Unearthly Stranger and the wonderful, overlooked, beautifully designed Decline and Fall of a Birdwatcher. Now that his rare feature debut is available on demand, we catch a glimpse of the stylist flexing his visual muscle.

5

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