1 July 2007 | Adrian Sweeney
Classic British comedy
This is hilarious and I think one of my favourite films ever. Reasons to see it: It was written by Galton and Simpson, writers of 'Hancock' and 'Steptoe and Son', on top form.
It stars British comedy super-god Lionel Jeffries, and is his finest hour and a half (apart from directing 'The Railway Children').
It co-stars two other absolute gods of British cinema, Laurence Harvey and Eric Portman. I don't think I've seen either of them in a comedy apart from this, and I don't know why not because they're brilliant in it. Also Colin Blakely as the Russian premiere. And Denholm Elliott and Eric Sykes, both of whom I'd completely forgotten about until I re-watched it, which is a measure of how good the others are. And holding up the American end, the colonel out of Bilko, briefly.
In a nutshell, Jeffries is a downtrodden suburban family man and low-grade spy with James Bond fantasies who masterminds a cunning scheme to obtain intelligence by surgically implanting a radio transmitter in a dog presented to the Russian leader (the cold-nosed spy of the title), aided by Harvey as a high-tone society vet with a terrible secret. Perhaps it's just Jeffries' ballpark resemblance to him, but I was reminded a bit of some of S. J. Perelman's stuff, that character he created for himself of the put-upon shlub with delusions of grandeur and dreams of romance, yanked out of his golden reveries by the banal importunities of wife and kids. But of course it's also a recurring character in British comedy - similar to the ones Galton and Simpson wrote so gloriously in Hancock and Steptoe but with an added dash of irritability - that character of the neurotic, frustrated Napoleon of Suburbia - growing up everyone in Britain had a friend with a slightly scary Dad like this. Jeffries nails it here. Perhaps the funniest of the early scenes are the ones with him at home, the tetchy paterfamilias overrun by his noisy children and wife June Whitfield ('Can't you control your spawn?' he snaps).
While most of the comedy comes from the Jeffries character, as I say Laurence Harvey is a comic revelation as a suave combination of gigolo and quack and the clash between them is great. It is very British and I suspect a bit old-fashioned for some people's tastes. Connoisseurs of Groovy London films should look out for one of those gratuitous pop-music and dance scenes the American producers insisted on inserting - in this case a completely unexplained sequence of Daliah Lavi dancing energetically by herself - but the swinging 60s elements are really just superimposed on a film that for the most part harks back to an earlier era.
Anyway, I found it hysterical, and have no idea why it isn't better known. If you like this kind of thing, then this is the kind of thing you'll love.