18 October 2000 | FilmFlaneur
Memorable camp classic which deserves to be better known
Although not a great film this is never the less, in its own way, unforgettable. The first section of the film plays as a light comedy and is amusing enough. As soon as the gender reversal fun begins, however, it moves into a different league - one which startles by the casual way it plays with sexual expectations and stereotyping.
The Willows' transformation (through the creaky genie device) is potentially explosive stuff and, to his credit, Roach successfully steers an innocent course between pantomime and farce. Although the sexual naivety of the film is obvious, to modern eyes the homosexual/lesbian resonance of the scenario is still very funny and, for its time, I think rather daring. Hubbard's fey alter ego especially is a joy to behold, and I am surprised that this film is not better known to lovers of gay camp.
Some elements of the supporting plot reinforces the echoes of sex and gender play too: the mix up with the pets for instance, prefiguring later confusions over role, or Willows' over-aggressive personal trainer, whose grappling is suggestive of an unwanted sexual encounter. Even the running joke of hiding drink from the wife suggests a furtive vice, again particularly apposite in context.
Menjou and Landis lend a touch of class to the proceedings, and although studio-bound, and not particularly realistic in scale, the set design is elegant and spacious. The otherwise (to me) unknown John Hubbard reminds me of Ed Wood in Glen or Glenda - it's that sort of film, where men slip on Angora sweaters and then light a pipe.
This is a project that is more successful exactly because it is directed by comedy veteran Roach. It would have perhaps emerged as a far safer, and therefore far less enjoyable vehicle in the hands of a larger studio or, if made by a director with a different background.