A naive young man, sent down from university, blunders through a series of bizarre adventures in which his participation is always innocent, although others don't think so.A naive young man, sent down from university, blunders through a series of bizarre adventures in which his participation is always innocent, although others don't think so.A naive young man, sent down from university, blunders through a series of bizarre adventures in which his participation is always innocent, although others don't think so.
No longer as funny as it was
I saw this when it came out in 1968 in London and decided it was time to see it again. Much of its humour has faded because things have changed so much, and much of it was also over-rated at the time, I can now see. The primary attraction of the film today is the marvellous performance by the incomparable Genevieve Page, whose magic was best seen in YOUNGBLOOD HAWKE (1964, see my review). This film is based on a novel by Evelyn Waugh, whose wit has faded with the wallpaper with every passing year. We are no longer so interested in making fun of the English aristocracy, as they have faded even faster than the wallpaper, so that one rarely thinks about them anymore. (They were eradicated by the hundreds of 'life peers' created by politicians, who have so diluted the prestige of being titled that a title is now more likely to raise a laugh than an eyebrow.) I remember the reaction to this film upon its release. Everyone was impressed by Genevieve Page having her Rolls Royce painted in a succession of different colours to match her gowns. In the film, the car progresses from pink to blue to green to grey, or did I get the sequence wrong? Then at the premiere I seem to recall that she turned up in a pastel-shaded Rolls Royce. The premiere was at that big cinema on Lower Regent Street which I believe may have been called the Paramount at that time. I believe I was there, or perhaps I was merely told about it by John Krish afterwards. I knew him for a while. He was the director. If I wasn't at the premiere, then I certainly saw the film in its first few days in that cinema. It was not a commercial success, I believe, and that hurt Krish's career. I always thought that Krish was under-rated, but in the case of this film, I now see that the film was justly criticised. The screenplay by Ivan Foxwell had to be souped up by Alan Hackney and Hugh Whitemore with additional scenes, but their soup was still too thin. Upon reflection, it was probably a bad idea to try to make a film based on Waugh's flimsy material in the first place. There was too much froth and too little substance, and the wildly brazen art direction of the film hurt rather than helped. Robin Phillips was chosen to be the young innocent lad around whom all the events revolve, but although he was a good choice for the part in terms of his looks and personality, he had no screen charisma at all. This was his first feature film, and within four years he had retired from films. The film offers opportunities for many character actors to take off into the outer space of acting, none more so than Colin Blakeley, who goes completely wild. Then there are Felix Aylmer, Donald Wolfit, and others. The best of them all is Leo McKern, who delivers a heart-felt performance of such pathos and poignancy that it ranks amongst the best of his filmed work. McKern always had far more in him than his appearance suggested or his casting history acknowledged. I shall never forget his amazing bravura performance as Peer Gynt in Ibsen's play at the Old Vic in the summer of 1963. If he had been a better looking man, he could have been one of the grand old men of the English stage and played all the major Shakespearian roles. My wife and I often used to eat biryanis in the Shahbag on Haverstock Hill at the same time as Leo McKern, who haunted the place as we did, and who seemed to like sweating on the hotter dishes such as Vindaloo or Madras curries. He had the most amazingly rough complexion but was very jolly and nice and interesting. Krish lived nearby in the Vale of Health and was a very pleasant and fascinating man to talk to. That was back in the days when everybody seemed to be in Hampstead. Nowadays nobody is in Hampstead except for spoilt rich people who have nothing to say and who never read a book unless it is an airport novel on a beach somewhere, in between keeping an eye on their share prices. I fear that the targets of satire these days have shifted, and nobody cares anymore whether lord and lady so-and-so are eccentric. That is all over.
- Feb 21, 2015
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By what name was Decline and Fall... of a Birdwatcher (1968) officially released in Canada in English?Answer