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  Naked Truth, The Past Imperfect
Year: 1957
Director: Mario Zampi
Stars: Terry-Thomas, Peter Sellers, Peggy Mount, Dennis Price, Shirley Eaton, Georgina Cookson, Joan Sims, Kenneth Griffith, Miles Malleson, Moultrie Kelsall, Bill Edwards, Wally Patch, Henry Hewitt, John Stuart, David Lodge, Joan Hurley, Michael Ripper
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Nigel Dennis (Dennis Price) leaves a top scientist's house only for the man to shoot himself dead a few seconds later. An M.P. has a stress-induced fatal heart attack in the Houses of Parliament soon after. And then a successful model, Miss Melissa Right (Shirley Eaton) attempts to commit suicide by gassing herself to death with her oven only to be foiled when her millionaire boyfriend returns unexpectedly. The reason for all this is that Dennis is blackmailing them all for large sums of money: he plans to reveal all about their private lives in his new magazine, The Naked Truth, and he has no intention of stopping there as he arrives at the house of Lord Mayley (Terry-Thomas), who is aghast to hear of the villain's schemes - specifically the expose of Lord Mayley...

This sprightly black comedy was scripted by Michael Pertwee, taking as its cue the American scandal magazines that were popular across the Atlantic at the time but had yet to make much of an impact in Britain. Indeed, it's quaint to see that kind of gutter journalism held up as being perfectly un-British considering the tabloid press we have today, but here the victims go to extraordinary lengths to keep their secrets out of the public eye. They all have to pay up or risk exposure in the magazine, meaning Dennis can move out of his houseboat and retire to a more spacious dwelling in the country with his spoils.

And what a great cast to bring it to life, all perfectly inhabiting their roles with flair. We first see Flora Ransom the crime writer (Peggy Mount) as she attempts to end it all by jumping out of her apartment window, but her fall is broken by an awning and a display of cabbages - she's being threatened too, but decides on another course of action when she survives. Also along for the ride is television personality Wee Sonny MacGregor (Peter Sellers) who hosts an amusingly ghastly show that stars him giving out gifts to the elderly and generally patronising them, most notably by dressing up as his guests to accompany them in song.

Sellers' part could have been written for him, as when MacGregor is faced with Dennis, he works out a plan of his own to kill off the villain, using his talent as a master of disguise (all those voices!) to help him. Little does he know that the other victims have their own ideas about how to beat the blackmailer, and Ransom wants to kill Dennis off as well, by using her expert knowledge as a mystery writer. It's all refreshingly cynical, as none of these characters are particularly likeable seeing as how we're aware from the start that they are not much better than Dennis - Mayley cheats on his wife, Ransom steals her plots and MacGregor is a slum landlord.

The fun of the story comes with the bungled retaliations, which initially are carried out independently because none of them want to admit to each other they are victims. Miss Right (and yes, they do carry off the "This is Miss Right," "Oh, congratulations!" gag) contacts Lord Mayley, who has to make sure his wife is not suspicious (which she is) when she does, but then Mrs Ransom accidentally knocks him out and tries to drown him, her daughter (Joan Sims) thinking he's Dennis. Although it gets pretty dark at times (MacGregor looking for a bomb supplier in an Irish pub is a small gem of bad taste), it's framed with a lightness of touch that pulls it off. It's just a pity that it doesn't really have a proper ending, as if reluctant to have anyone come out on top. Music by Stanley Black.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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