28 February 2002 | sep1051
Absolutely Delightful British Comedy
It absolutely astounds me that a film this fine is not more readily available to North American viewers.
A television producer (Ian Carmichael) in the early days of BBC Television sells the idea of a daily soap opera starring a "real life" show business couple. Unfortunately Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh are not available! However there is a suitable substitute in the Fosters (Peter Finch and Kay Kendall). What the producer doesn't know but which their agent (Hubert Gregg) does is that the Fosters are constantly at each others throat (and going home to mother!) and, of course, unemployed and broke. Reluctantly they set aside their fighting and accept the roles for the sake of solvency. To make the Fosters more comfortable in television their real life butler and maid (Maurice Denham and Thora Hird) are cast as their TV series butler and maid. Also along is the series writer (Muriel Pavlow) who has a crush on the producer. The series is a smash but its difficult playing lovey-dovey in front of the camera while fighting behind it. Naturally Carmichael is much more "understanding" of Kendall, than her husband is, and Pavlow is much more "admiring" of Finch, than his wife is. Complications ensue, not only from the couplings but from child actors as well. Eventually it becomes impossible to hide the off screen lives and they begin to cross over into live TV.
This "behind the scenes" movie plays off of the ego and self absorbation prevalent in show business. Finch is outstanding as an actor whose ego constantly needs constant nourishment. Kendall is outstanding as the jealous wife who must be the center of attention. Both characters are played large and the undercurrent of competition, relevant to today's dual career couples, is intense. Carmichael and Pavlow are more subdued "normal" people and subject only to the normal boy-girl misunderstandings. Denham and Hird steal every scene they can as the success of the show begins to effect their egos.
Technical credits, including color photography, are fine.
In all, an absolutely delightful movie. I saw this film once as a child and remembered the vivid characters ever since. It has taken me forty years before I could lay my hands on a copy. Never has a wait been as rewarded as it was with this film.