French Dressing (1964)

Not Rated   |    |  Comedy, Drama

French Dressing (1964) Poster

A drab little English seaside town tries to improve its image - and increase its revenues - by holding a film festival. When a famous continental star agrees to attend, things get out of hand.


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21 May 2002 | FilmFlaneur
French Dressing is not cinematic salad
This has always been a weakness of mine: one of Ken Russell's earliest made-for-cinema efforts after a prestigious early career in TV documentaries. It stars one of my favourite minor British actors, James Booth, who went on to appear so memorably in 'Zulu' the year after, the late Roy Kinnear as a corpulent side kick, as well as the irreplaceable Bryan Pringle, as the corruptible and egoistical Mayor. The weaknesses, and charm, can be put down to its time and some of Russell's own uncertainties on a larger canvas: EG the awkward apeing of some Nouvelle Vague mannerisms for outside shots, and the varying tone - psrtly due to Russell's attempts to reconcile so many disparate elements. But to offset that, his surreal vision of a small English sea-side resort (Herne Bay), seeking to raise its cultural and tourist profile was (and remains) delightful to anyone who was familiar with the run down, determinedly unsexy reality at the time. Its a film a long way from the later Russell's variable excesses and, although sometimes awkward, is never heavy handed. He works well in black and white, maintaining a narrative interest and drive which only falters at the end, even if wide boy Booth is unable to project the warmth and passion his character's infatuation ultimately needs. This is one of those rare British films in which the imported continental talent - in this case, Marissa Mell (who plays 'Francoise Fayol', clearly modelled on Bardot) 'works' as a character - her exotic sexuality, so out of place in drab Gormley-on-Sea, is the point of a film that pointedly contrasts expectations, then results, throughout. And, as a view of small town municipal life, 'French Dressing' would bear some closer investigation by British critics than it has hitherto received. It's good too to see a falling out of opinions on IMDb's hallowed pages about this film - a sure sign that it is alive and kicking...

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