Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969)

Director Ken Annakin had scored a major hit in 1965 with the delightful comedy/adventure romp Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (originally titled Monte Carlo or Bust!) was a kind of belated follow-up and follows the same formula, albeit not quite so successfully. This time Annakin acted as both producer and director and once again he and Jack Davies co-wrote the screenplay.

This time the subject is not an air race but a motor rally in the 1920s. The earlier film spent a lot of time giving us the backstories of the various competitors while this one jumps pretty much straight into the action. As a result the characters are less developed. The style of comedy is slightly broader as well. This might possibly be due to the subject matter - a 1920s car race must have seemed like an obvious opportunity to throw in plenty of the slapstick comedy that had been such a feature of 1920s silent cinema. It may also be that by 1969 it was felt that audiences would demand much more frantic pacing.

Once again, as in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, we get a multi-national cast playing a multi-national field of competitors. From Britain there’s pompous Indian Army officer Major Dawlish (Peter Cook) and his sycophantic sidekick Lieutenant Barrington (Dudley Moore) plus there’s the dastardly upper-class cad Sir Cuthbert Ware-Armitage (Terry-Thomas) and his long-suffering minion Perkins (Eric Sykes). There are Italians Marcello (Landa Buzzanca) and Angelo (Walter Chiari) and a team of young and beautiful lady doctors. From Germany there’s Gert Fröbe as Horst Müller who is using the rally as a cover for a diamond-smuggling operation. And from the USA there’s the brash Chester Schofield (Tony Curtis) who soon hooks up with the aristocrat but ditzy Betty (Susan Hampshire). There are some other noteworthy faces to be seen, including the great Hattie Jacques and British screen legend Jack Hawkins.

Naturally there are plenty of fairly spectacular sequences combining action with comedy and Annakin, as you would expect, handles them with energy and zest. There’s a lot of obvious rear projection but on the whole these scenes hold up extremely well.

Tony Curtis and Susan Hampshire provide the obligatory romance sub-plot. This slows the action down a little but fortunately not too much.

The major weakness as compared to Annakin’s earlier film has already been alluded to - we don’t get to learn enough about any of the characters to care very much about them. This makes the film a bit too reliant on fast-paced slapstick but even slapstick works better if we have sympathy for the characters. 

With a running time of just over two hours this movie is also perhaps just a little too long, and it’s a little disjointed as well.

Tony Curtis is OK but he doesn’t seem to be really engaged with his character. This may be more the fault of the screenplay which doesn’t give him enough opportunities. Susan Hampshire is charming and convincingly dotty.

Terry-Thomas gives us a retread of his performance in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines but he’s so good at playing bounders you don’t mind. Eric Sykes as his reluctant underling who actually despises him is marvellous, as always. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore are in top form in the kinds of roles they always relished. They also have the advantage the many insane and useless inventions with which Major Dawlish has equipped his car - these wacky inventions provide some of the film’s best visual moments. These four deliver the standout performances and the movie is at its best when they’re onscreen.

Legend Films have released this film on a double-header two-disc Blu-Ray set with another Tony Curtis film, Houdini. Houdini is an excellent and extremely interesting movie and is good enough on its own to justify the purchase of the set. Making it even more tempting is the very reasonable price and the fact that the Blu-Ray transfers for both movies are pretty good - in fact very very good when you consider that this is really a budget set.

Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies fails to recapture the magic of Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines but while it’s far from being a great movie it’s reasonably enjoyable fluff. Terry-Thomas, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore are the main drawcards here and they’re always worth watching. It’s probably not worth buying this one on its own but the Blu-Ray set pairing it with Houdini is definitely worth getting and if you look at Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies as a fairly entertaining bonus film the set becomes a very attractive proposition indeed. 

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