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A Fond Farewell
on 29 August 2012
Being of an age where I have enjoyed years of Eric Sykes' early comedy on the television, I was very saddened at his recent passing. Some of his early TV work is still broadcast from time to time, and I wanted a more lasting memoriam to remember him. This small compendium of five of his short films, some Cannes winners, fits the bill admirably.
I saw "The Plank" upon its first release, but had to admit I couldn't remember it that well. Four of the five shorts on this disc are what have been called "silent" films, inasmuch as there is no dialogue to speak of, but they are not completely devoid of dialogue and which pops up in places. I think this adds to make them more accessible than if they had been genuinely silent films accompanied by a music track and sound effects.
These shorts use a cast of well-known TV comedy personalities of the era, the majority of whom pop up in all of the stories. It is a case of guessing who they are and putting a specific series to them. Some of them had starring roles in their own rights in famous TV series - Arthur Lowe and Richard Briers, to give just two examples. Perhaps the most surprising is an appearance by a young James Hunt as a truck driver, and Joanna Lumley! The familiarity of them all lends to a nice warm glow of nostalgia.
The longest story, "If you go down into the woods today", is the first on the disc and is the one which incorporates normal dialogue. This involves Eric leading a troupe of Wolf Cubs on a camping expedition. The storyline is somewhat convoluted but is very entertaining.
The next one up "Rhubard, Rhubard" is, for me, the least successful of the five here, with some of the visual comedy being of a lower standard, but is nevertheless entertaining.
Then comes "The Plank" but this is not the original release, which lasts for over 50 minutes, but a shorter re-make for Thames Television. Surprisingly, I found this shorter re-make actually works better than the original. (I have the original, too.) I believe this is down to the storyline being more compact, and I suspect Eric Sykes saw an opportunity to cut down on the length of some of the overly long scenes of the original which, in hindsight, are worked too long. Certainly, watching the original after viewing this shortened version, it did seem to dwell a little too long with some scenes, almost to the point of wearing out their welcome. All the running gags are here in the revision, and I honestly believe they are better in their presentation. The ending has been changed but it works equally as well.
The fourth short, "Mr. H is late" deals with a subject in a way that some may find disrespectful, a funeral. However, this is a riotous account of the journey of the coffin to the church, arriving late of course, hence the title. And it is in no way disrespectful.
Many who have moved house will empathise with a lot of the final short, "It's your move". It is an exaggeration of what most must fear when moving house at the hands of the removal men. I doubt that all of the misfortunes that beset Richard Briers and Sylvia Syms when moving into their house will have happened to one couple, but I would guess most will have experienced at least one!
All in all, this is a delightful anthology of the art of Eric Sykes as a film writer and director, and I am sure it will delight those who enjoyed his somewhat homespun and low-key television humour. The quality of the print transfers is good.