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  Sands of the Desert A Proper CharlieBuy this film here.
Year: 1960
Director: John Paddy Carstairs
Stars: Charlie Drake, Peter Arne, Sarah Branch, Raymond Huntley, Rebecca Dignam, Peter Illing, Harold Kasket, Marne Maitland, Neil McCarthy, Derek Sydney, Alan Tilvern, Martin Benson, Eric Pohlmann, Paul Stassino, Tutte Lemkow, Roger Delgado, Judith Furse
Genre: Comedy
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: The tourist company of Mr Bossom (Raymond Huntley) has been hit with a snag recently when it tried to open a holiday camp in the deserts of Africa. This plan has met with a degree of opposition, especially from one of the local sheiks, El Jabez (Peter Arne) who sees this as an affront to his realm, and has soured relations with his great rival in the area who is more happy with the scheme. So much so that Bossom's representative in the deal has been blown up in an assassination bid, a successful one at that, and the boss must find a replacement to head out there and oversee the completion of the camp. Unfortunately for them, the only available employee is Charles Sands (Charlie Drake), a bumbler of the first degree...

This wasn't Drake's movie debut, but it was the first film to try and capitalise on his popularity that he had attained in the musical hall and after that, television. He would go on to make a handful of comedy films, none of which exactly set the box office alight as audiences were more keen to see him on the small screen until that success waned in the seventies after his children's production Professor Popper's Problems, where he was shrunk and had various adventures. What tended to dog his reputation was the notion that he was difficult to work with, which may have harmed his career: the famous incident where he was knocked out on live TV was rumoured not to have been an accident after all.

That said, there have been a fair few showbiz monsters, and Charlie's clumsy innocent persona was sure to generate the gossip that he wasn't anywhere near as decent in real life (a selection of far younger girlfriends didn't do much to endear him either), but he was a hard worker, as befitting the title of his most famed sitcom, The Worker. However, there was another small man casting a far longer shadow over Drake, and he was considerably better liked in the industry: step forward Norman Wisdom, who in Sands of the Desert was a blatant inspiration for the antics, only on a far lower budget. No matter that this was set in the desert as the title awkwardly suggests, it was plain to see how stuck in the studio the whole thing was.

Nevertheless, Charlie was put through some very Wisdom-esque paces, so much so that if it had not been written and directed by John Paddy Carstairs, Norman might have had reason to complain. Carstairs was the man responsible for most of Albania's favourite movie star's screen outings, and had guaranteed his hits with elaborate slapstick and mournful pathos, so the formula was slavishly adhered to here to lesser effect. Drake was even ignored by the love interest that wasn't, model Sarah Branch making one of her few appearances as an actress, who barely notices him after their initial encounters, as if to acknowledge that Norman may have got away with charming the ladies, but Charlie was a different kettle of fish. Notably when you had a sequence slap bang in the middle that came across as one of the star's sexual fantasies that had somehow ended up being filmed.

He is in a sheik's palace when he is surrounded by his scantily clad harem, who end up coaxing Sands into a bath: well, almost, as before he has completely stripped off he is interrupted by a larger, less personable lady in a feeble move to say, hey, you didn't think we'd really see Charlie serviced by the young women, did you? Ha ha ha... er, of course not! Mind you, that's only a small part of a film that is more intent on sentimentalism with a little orphan girl (Rebecca Dignam) who hangs onto Sands as a surrogate father, call it the Charlie Chaplin influence that Wisdom was not immune to either. Altogether odder was Neil McCarthy, appearing in brownface as a lot of the actors did here, who acts as Sands' bodyguard but seems to have an unhealthy interest in donkeys. Call a different era, but what they were aiming for is something of a mystery there. Of perhaps more note was a horrible feast sequence Steven Spielberg appeared to have ripped off for Temple of Doom, sheep's eye and everything. All in all, this wasn't actively offensive, but it was derivative. Music by Stanley Black (Charlie sings, too).
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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