16 July 2010 | Igenlode Wordsmith
Watching this film is, I suspect, something like attending the performance of an elderly farce by a terribly enthusiastic cast -- with the added features of booming recorded voices, clattering sound-stage footsteps and background camera hum -- and I have to say that I can envision it going down like a lead balloon on DVD...
However in its native habitat, namely a crowded cinema auditorium with a cheerfully-disposed audience, it is quite tolerable fun, although this genre of film isn't really my cup of tea at the best of times; it does have its moments, but I wouldn't say that "Bed and Breakfast" was worth going out of your way to see.
The film is fairly stagy and relies largely on stock situations and characters -- the orotund (and rotund) clergyman and his prim and proper wife, the garrulous bookie and his vulgar Missus, the drunken Scot, the ineffective tail-coated twit and the suspicious husband, not to mention the crooks who cry "It's a fair cop, guv'nor" and tote a bag of swag. The main motor of the comedy is the desire of the unmarried couple to avoid committing technical adultery by being forced to share a bedroom, a former favourite farce plot-line which has rather lost its stimulating hint of naughtiness over the elapsed years; shorn of that titillation, we are left with the mechanics of the various convolutions the characters get themselves into in quest of this end, some of which are more entertaining than others.
Characterisation beyond the stock types is threadbare and motivation tends to be a bit arbitrary -- for instance, Audrey's sudden capitulation into believing her husband at the end, on no more basis than her former wild suspicions -- with the result that I really didn't care about any of the characters at all; I don't imagine that we were supposed to. As a result, the plot becomes an entirely mechanical set of evolutions and improbable happenings, feminine shrieks and bedtime insinuations; it's not always unfunny but it is too much to expect any degree of emotional payback, and I always find this unsatisfactory.
So far as the technical quality of this new print goes, visual material is good, presumably thanks to being sourced from original negatives, but it's clear, as I hinted above, that this is sound recording in its infancy: indeed, the title card proudly boasts that this is a "Synchronised", i.e. talking picture! Audiences presumably responded to the sheer novelty of hearing their wisecracks on screen (director Walter Forde remembered that this picture used to go down very well in the cinemas at the time).
An interesting historical novelty, but this one I didn't warm to.