Wednesday, 2 March 2011



Oh no, not again! You can wait for years for a film based around a crucial performance of Swan Lake and, barely a month after the rather wonderful Black Swan shows up, there's a surprise screening of early 90s Euro-oddity Etoile. But a quarter of a century before that, no less than Eric and Ernie faced the corps de ballet and the Black Swan. Alright, admittedly it's not any kind of horror film but it's still a whopping coincidence.

Received wisdom has it that Morecambe and Wise's cinema ventures were naught compared to their television achievements, and I guess it's true that without that rapport with a live audience or the freedom to improvise and ad lib, the big screen simply wasn't their natural home. Nevertheless there are still great pleasures to be had from the pair, at least in The Intelligence Men, the first of their three film outings in 1965 (the same year as Thunderball), in which Eric, the proprietor of a Mexican-themed coffee bar in London, is called upon to impersonate a recently deceased top British agent in order to crack a Russian spy ring who plan to disrupt Anglo-Soviet trade talks by assassinating the prima ballerina at a gala performance of Swan Lake. Unless Eric and his MI5 contact, bottom-rung office dogsbody and master of disguise Ernie Wise, can save the day and unmask the traitor.

Probably recalling A Night At The Opera, the climax revolves around the backstage and onstage havoc as M and W bound into Swan Lake dressed as Egyptian slaves. And it is funny - granted it's not up there with the breakfast sketch, the plays, the Shirley Bassey skit (one of my personal favourites) or a hundred other timeless moments, but it certainly has a far higher hit rate than much mainstream comedy of the present day. If the plotting is irrelevant and nonsensical as the surprise identity of the traitor, it's really not important: it's the jokes that count, not character arcs or watertight story construction. Nor does it matter that many individual scenes of the movie actually feel like standalone TV sketches. I laughed.


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