8 June 2008 | dglink
European Travel before the EU and the euro,
While not a laugh-out-loud comedy, "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium" is a humorous, affectionate take on group travel that will resonate with anyone who has been on a European bus tour. Ian McShane is the British guide for World Wind Tours Number 225, which will sweep through nine countries in eighteen days. McShane's American tourists include such comedic talents as Norman Fell, Marty Ingels, Reva Rose, Peggy Cass, Pamela Britton, and Sandy Baron. Although not well known for comedy, Murray Hamilton, Michael Constantine, and Mildred Natwick are spot-on funny as well and fill out the bus-load of stereotypes. Murray Hamilton stands out as the congenital cynic who was dragged away from his comfy couch for the trip. Hamilton's expressions and delivery capture the feelings of every male who has submitted to his wife's desire for a cultural experience in a foreign land.
The photography by Vilis Lapenieks captures the beauty of a Europe that flits by faster than the group can either absorb or appreciate. Strangely enough, only the Marty Ingels character, who is obsessed with photographing beautiful women to inspire jealousy among his male friends back home, appears to carry a camera. Predictably, a romantic liaison develops between tourist Suzanne Pleshette, who is as lovely as ever, and guide McShane. The Pleshette-McShane relationship, however, shines in contrast to the bloodless attraction between teens Hilary Thompson and Luke Halpin, who had better chemistry with dolphins. However, when the movie hits its target, it is engaging and oddly nostalgic, which the wistful title tune by Donovan underscores. For many, a quick glimpse of European wonders is a once in a lifetime experience whose memories must endure, and McShane emphasizes to Pleshette that tourists like her get an enormous return for their money.
Unfortunately, younger viewers may not react to the satire and sharp observations, because the film is firmly set in the 1960's. Veterans of World War II are increasingly rare and few make trips back to the battlefields. Hotels no longer monogram their towels for sticky fingered guests. Carnaby Street is no longer a mecca for mod fashion, and inoculations are unnecessary for European trips. However, anyone who has crossed the pond will recognize that Rome will never be a place to rent a car, American franchises abound in European cities, and yodeling is still an acquired taste. "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium" is a time capsule for those who want to relive or catch a glimpse of European travel before the EU, the euro, and the proliferation of the English language homogenized the continent and stole some of the fun away. With a bit of nostalgia, some talented comedians, and director Mel Stuart's pacing, which is nearly as fast as the tour bus, the film is gentle fun and above average entertainment.