30 July 2009 | Igenlode Wordsmith
Half a success
This film is an odd mixture of about fifty/fifty success and failure, but manages to remain quite enjoyable withal: Monty Python, however, it ain't.
It's a somewhat odd experience for those, such as myself, with only a passing acquaintance with the Goons, to see them in person rather than just as radio voices. I had no idea that Harry Secombe was so short, for instance, or Spike Milligan could be so unexpectedly good-looking. And they take advantage of the new medium to experiment with some purely visual comedy, for example Secombe's mimed surgical operation. The hit rate for this, though, is about the same as for the verbal humour: about half of it worked for me and the other half didn't.
The most consistently impressive performer is Alfred Marks, who appears to be channelling Alistair Sim in his role as a smooth criminal mastermind; his derogatory relationship with the sidekick he calls 'Laddie' is almost invariably hilarious. The statuesque Paddy O'Neill's impression of Bette Davis is also wickedly apt, while she and Vicki Page as Sheila have a good double-act going. The Goons have a tendency towards being manic just for the sake of it (epitomised in the speeded-up sequences, a form of Keystone Kops comedy that just doesn't work for me at all) but come up with some nice sequences.
The history of the print we saw was chequered, the picture having been cut for re-issue under the title "Penny Points" with some of the footage surviving only in 16mm format (and apparently extra footage of Peter Sellers interspersed to take advantage of his increased fame!) The differing quality of certain scenes did, however, provide the opportunity to see just what had been cut; largely plot-development and dialogue scenes between the set-piece gags, by the look of it, and certainly the restoration gives the impression of being an improvement.
By and large I found this film about as funny as the average Goon Show episode (which were always a bit haphazard), although not as funny as the best of them... but then I'd been told to expect the worst by two separate people before the screening started, and was consequently quite pleasantly surprised! Provided you don't expect too much this film is quite enjoyable, and manages to avoid being tedious or annoying throughout.