Wednesday, December 7, 2011

THE BED SITTING ROOM (1969) – Stay Calm and carry on!

Greg Goodsell here. Funny thing about this blog -- if it's British and especially twisted, it falls on my plate! THE BED SITTING ROOM is this in spades -- utterly and totally British, and very, very twisted. It's the only nuclear war comedy I can think of off the top of my head other than Stanley Kubrick's DR. STRANGELOVE!

OK, here's the deal. Director Richard Lester was enjoying his directorial “bad boy” status from his success with A HARD DAY'S NIGHT and HELP! with the Beatles and so was given a not unsubstantial at the time one million British pounds to film the project of his choosing! He chose the play THE BED SITTING ROOM, about the British survivors of a nuclear war desperately clinging to decorum, comically unaware that civilization has been vaporized all about them! Few could be troubled to see it, and it wound up with something of an "unseen masterpiece" reputation!

I’m going to be brutally frank with you. THE BED SITTING ROOM's biggest deficit is its musical score. Incessant, bouncy, irritating, it prompted me to turn the film off on the telly when it appeared on an independent Los Angeles TV station way back in the Seventies. The guys who did the music clips on this site wisely elected to concentrate on the whimsical dialogue instead!

The remnants of the British Broadcasting Corporation travels door to door to assure Britons that the war is now over, with a peace treaty signed -- now enjoy your meal of ground-up cockroaches, thank you very much.

Cheer up! In the event of a nuclear war, you'll have plenty of shoes to choose from!

Yes it’s those British acting stalwarts SIR RALPH RICHARDSON and MICHAEL HOLDERN! Ralphie is an aristocrat who has no place to go, as effectively, society has come to an end. Holdern plays a general practitioner that confirms Ralphie’s worst fears that yes, indeedy – his is turning into a bed sitting room! A bed sitting room, for those not in the know is the British term for a low-rent, one room apartment. Listen to Soft Cell’s “Bedsitter” as a point of reference.

The British railway has been running lo these many years underground, impervious to bombs! A proper British family has been surviving on the candy bars from vending machines during the train's brief stops at stations.

Grab a Snickers bar and live for another 72 hours! The rat race continues!

This family heeds the national motto of "Stay Calm, and Carry On." Cooped up with her parents for three years, however, their daughter is itchy to get more out of life –

The daughter is played by none other than RITA TUSHINGHAM! Poor thing, lacking in the looks department, all she had going for her was genuine acting ability! She first gained notice in the famous "kitchen sink" drama A TASTE OF HONEY and went on to act in DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, STRAIGHT ON ‘TIL MORNING, THE KNACK, THE LEATHER BOYS – a quintessential Brit actress, Rita is still in high demand today!

Dear old mum is played by MONA WASHBOURNE and should be immediately recognizable to anyone! MY FAIR LADY, THE COLLECTOR, BILLY LIAR, STEVIE, IF …, FERRY ACROSS THE MERSEY, MRS. BROWN, YOU’VE GOT A LOVELY DAUGHTER – where to begin?

The game is found out! Rita has been sheltering a secret lover, Allan (Richard Warwick) in the adjoining subway car all these many years from her dutiful dad and dotty mom! This accounts somewhat for her 17-months-long pregnancy.

This poor chap lies in the British subway thinking he is a piece of luggage waiting to be claimed! A very uncomfortable analogy about the civilian public in the event of a nuclear exchange is touched upon here.

This hapless British family takes the escalator out of the subway only to be deposited onto a desolated wash! Welcome to After the Bomb, people!

The Classic British cock-eyed comedian MARTY FELDMAN registers well as a nurse in drag! While THE BED SITTING ROOM is generally anti-establishment-everything, the medical establishment takes an especially heavy drubbing in this film! Remember, Michael Holdern plays a general practitioner.

These binoculars are helpful considering Feldman's "vision issues!"

This selfless Briton provides his nation’s electricity with his unique electro-cycle. Shades of Edward G. Robinson in SOYLENT GREEN!

This bit reminds me of a conceptual piece from Cal Arts gone terribly, terribly wrong.

This nifty idea using herd animals to lug around useless automobiles was used most effectively in the Twilight Zone episode "The Old Man in the Cave." Remember that one?

Another fine British thespian, seen in practically every English film ever made, ROY KINNEAR has starred in countless movies and TV shows, but Stateside viewers will remember him best as the father of the despicable Varuca Salt in WILLIE WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (71)! "Varuca, darling!" Here he plays a rubber fetishist -- "Rubber, rubber!"

"YOU THERE! KEEP MOVING!" is the only form of authority left in England as two wannabe policemen bellow at everyone below from a hot air balloon.

Was Peter Cook EVER this young? He, along with famed actor Dudley Moore seem to be the only law enforcement figures left in England!

Dudley gets into the post nuclear thing by turning into a dog! When in Rome – The ARTHUR star, like his most well-known screen character would have his life tragically cut short on account of all-too-real alcoholism.

While ostensibly a comedy, the scenes of nuclear devastation in BED SITTING ROOM are every bit as harrowing as those found in the serious-as-a-heart-attack British doomsday epics, THE WAR GAME in 1965 and THREADS in 1984!

THE BED SITTING ROOM's most indelible image among countless striking visuals is without question the sight of London's Saint Paul Cathedral arising from a stagnant pond.

Tushingham marries Holdern in order to give legitimacy to her mutant unborn child! As expected, insults about the Catholic Church abound in this scene!

Since Sir Ralph was kind enough to turn into a bed sitting room, our young couple now has a place to stay! Furthermore, mom has morphed into a wardrobe and dad is now a parrot! How adaptable these Brits are!

The couple's baby is an unseen, screeching mutant kept in a handbag! Not that far removed from most normal newborns, I might add.

Dad turns into a parrot and selflessly becomes the young couple's first decent meal in awhile. Hmmmmmm ... a mutant, squealing baby and a vile repast involving birdies all set in a nuked, post-industrial setting. Can Henry Spencer from ERASERHEAD (1977) be that far behind?

Last but not least, Dandy Nichols as Mrs Ethel Shroake, the last surviving member of the royal family five times removed, waving to all her happy subjects. Which number about .... I don't know, 23?"

I feel that the film’s ending is a bit of a cop-out. It would have been far more fitting for the characters to mutate into inanimate objects to enjoy life on a different plane. While ye reviewer wouldn’t place THE BED SITTING ROOM in the “unseen masterpiece” category, it does feature top British actors and comedians of its day at the top of their game, all in one place! Catch it if you can!


Eegah!! said...

Just for the record, Greg himself picks what lands in his lap!

Anonymous said...

These sinks also reach you a different look. The faucet holes are in the countertop, and not kitchen sink black the sink itself.

Prof. Grewbeard said...

Roy Kinnear was also great in Help!

Douglas McEwan said...

I recently rewatched The Bed-Sitting Room for the first time in about 30 years. Still a good film. The original Spike Milligan stage play the movie is based on was written as a vehicle for Barry Humphries, the man inside Dame Edna Everage, and Barry starred in the Sir Ralph Richardson role in the original production. What a shame he's not in the movie, as pretty much every one else who was funny in Britain at the time is.

The man playing the "BBC" kneeling in the TV is Frank Thornton, who played Col. Peacock on the BBC sitcom Are You Being Served? for roughly a million years.

Dr. Theda said...

I have never seen this movie ... I like Fieldmen "bug-eyes" and all..The part about the "parrot" was funny...

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