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Good golly, Ms Mollie!
on 25 June 2015
This 1977 spin-off movie really does seem to polarise audience opinion.
You either love it, in which case you consider it an honour and a privilege to have the opportunity to shell out a fair old wedge for what is, in all honesty, a very cheaply made DVD ... or you think that 'Are You Being Served? The Movie' is the sort of thing they ought to have perpetually playing of a night-time in areas of high crime, as a way of getting potential malefactors off the streets quickly and efficiently. Not just off the streets either, but voluntarily locked up in their own homes and praying to anyone who will listen to please, please not let Mrs Slocombe's Union Flag knickers appear in their nightmares.
For what it's worth (and, no doubt, because I was born to be awkward) I can't say I absolutely love this film. But I do like a lot of things about it. At the same time, I can see why it might have caused someone like Barry Norman to choke on his popcorn.
A seventies sitcom spin-off movie needs to have a number of things going for it to have any sort of hope of being spoken of favourably a few decades down the line. Essentially, it needs the original cast, an original script, an interesting situation for the characters to find themselves in and, most important of all, it's got to be funny. All of which explains, at a glance, why the film version of 'Rising Damp' won so few Oscars.
'Are You Being Served? The Movie' can certainly pass muster as far as its cast is concerned. It features all the regulars (including Arthur English as Mr Harman, Mr Mash's janitorial replacement) as well as people like Andrew Sachs and Glyn Houston in support. But never mind them: Mollie Sugden is unquestionably worth the price of admission alone. There's nothing more attractive than a woman who is effortlessly brilliant at what she does - and that applies to Mollie, in spades. Even if her superb comedy creation IS keen on sporting a hair tint which has been picked at random from an interior designer's colour wheel.
As for having an original script though - well, that's where things go a little bit wrong really. If we think of the film as being split into three main segments, I would say that the first two (where we find the staff in their usual environment and then follow them, via Gatwick, to the Costa Plonka) definitely have merit. The denouement however is, in my opinion, as weak as water.
And Mrs Slocombe and I are unanimous in that. In my dreams we are, anyway.
Arguably, the staff of Grace Brothers being forced to go on holiday together could be said to have come straight out of one of the earlier TV episodes, although the fact that they never actually did get away on that occasion is something in the film's favour. And there is a lot of original comedy to be found, albeit it somewhat outflanked sometimes by some suspiciously familiar-sounding lines. But there are two main set-pieces that, basically, have been lifted straight out of the programme.
One of them ('Dear Sexy Knickers...') works very well in its new Spanish setting. The other, which sees Derek Griffiths' visiting Sheik having a balloon thrust up his inside leg, was as boring as heck when they did a variation of it in the show. Here in the movie, it manages to be as boring as heck AS WELL as doing absolutely nothing to serve either the story or the characters. Although, from the expression on his face, Derek Griffiths himself must have got quite a lot out of the experience.
As far as the 'situation' part of things goes, the idea of having the staff holidaying together is actually made rather believable. Indeed, it even seems quite appealing... at least until it becomes apparent that everyone will have to share the one lavatory. For some reason the idea of going in there after Mr Grainger would put me right off. Then again, he'd probably have similar reservations about following me. And he'd undoubtedly have a much stronger case, too.
These days, Mr Lucas' behaviour while going through security at Gatwick would see him serving a considerable period of time in chokey. And Mr Grainger would be going through a body scanner and then, quite possibly, joining him. It's funny how times change, isn't it? Still, we get to see some wonderful old footage of the airport, including a gorgeous Dan Air Comet (known to its friends as G-APYD) which, a quick internet search tells me, is now residing in the Science Museum at Wroughton, near Swindon.
As I said before, I think the ending itself is pretty disappointing. Having thought about it though, that's probably because it is a step too far for the characters. They get up to some daft things on the sales floor and (particularly in the case of Mr Humphries) in a whole lot of other places besides... but to find them effectively in the middle of a warzone is just a bit too far-fetched. Although not as far-fetched as Young Mr Grace's shenanigans in the final few frames. How does that bloke get so many nubile young ladies, that's what I'd like to know. And how the dickens did he never try anything on with Mrs Slocombe? Good grief, what was wrong with the man??!
The lovely thing about 'Are You Being Served?' is that it quickly evolved into a true ensemble piece and that is very much reflected in this movie. Each character has been so well-written and is so well-portrayed that they are all funny, and each and every one of them brings something different. It's not going to split your sides (unless you've got a part-time job as the Laughing Policeman), but it certainly has an awful lot more going for it as a comedy than a lot of its detractors might have you believe.
My own favourite moments come right at the beginning, before the cast have even packed their suitcases. First, there's a brilliant series of scenes in which Mrs Slocombe has to get a photo taken for her visa while trying to evade the nurse who's been tasked with giving her her injections. The glaring hole in the plot that means she surely would never have actually had the time to get that visa made up is never explained, so I suppose we're meant to ignore it. To be fair, it's not really something I find myself dwelling on. Not when I've got Mrs Slocombe's reassuringly patriotic bloomers to hold my attention.
In addition to that, there's a clever piece of silent comedy involving a mannequin, some false teeth and a pair of budgie-smugglers. I know, I know - the mind positively boggles, doesn't it?
The music is what really makes that scene, by the way. I've read reviews elsewhere that complain about the soundtrack as a whole, accusing it of sounding 'cheesy' and the like. All I can say is, the main reason I bought this film was to get my hands on a copy of the music they use in the closing titles. It's awful, I'll be the first to admit that. All the same, it is infuriatingly catchy.
And it's not as if there is anything else that could even remotely be referred to as a 'bonus' on here. It's been lumbered with a Region 2 coding (for, what I can only assume are, reasons of abject spite). Meanwhile, it can boast no helpful sleeve-notes, no handy leaflets, no life-saving subtitles... no nothing.
Well, unless you can count that picture of Mrs Slocombe on her hands and knees. That one there... where she's looking over her shoulder all wide-eyed and enthusiastic.
Actually you know, someone with a crush on her and an overactive imagination might well consider that to be a definite bonus.
Oh well, that must just be me then!