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  Not Now, Comrade Russian About
Year: 1976
Director: Ray Cooney, Harold Snoad
Stars: Leslie Phillips, Roy Kinnear, Ian Lavender, Michele Dotrice, Carol Hawkins, Lewis Fiander, Ray Cooney, June Whitfield, Windsor Davies, Don Estelle, Michael Sharvell-Martin, Richard Marner
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: The Russian Ballet have been performing in London, and at a photo call outside the theatre, there is suddenly a commotion when a stripper appears and starts parading up and down under a "Russians Go Home!" sign. The photographers are delighted, but what they do not know is that it is a subterfuge, as the young woman is Barbara Wilcox (Carol Hawkins), and she has been conducting an affair with the head ballet dancer, Rudi Petrovyan (Lewis Fiander), who plans to defect to the West with her at his side. However, while the diversion goes well, the outcome is less happy, for Rudi slips away and into the wrong car, one driven by Commander Rimmington (Leslie Phillips), who is heading home to his country house - with Barbara in hot pursuit.

Ray Cooney was an unbeatable farceur on the stage, as far as the period from the nineteen-sixties to the eighties went, with thousands lining up to see works like Run For Your Wife in the theatre and thoroughly enjoying them. Only Brian Rix came close to taking his crown in this era, and they also joined forces on occasion, but both performers wanted something more, they wanted more than theatrical glory, they wanted to be movie stars as well. Thus as a record of their efforts, down the years various film versions of their farces have been produced, and the effect was, shall we say, something of a letdown in comparison to the box office of the stage shows, with critics and audiences alike taking a dim view of the film incarnations.

Cooney was at this as recently as a film adaptation of Run For Your Wife in 2012, and when you know it took one of the tiniest amounts of money at the British box office of all time, then you will have an idea of how successful, and indeed welcomed, it was. But what of Cooney's heyday, surely Not Now, Comrade would be more indicative of why his talents chimed so much with theatre audiences of its day? Well, it certainly looked like a theatrical performance, with more or less the whole of the action unfolding on a single set, aside from the odd exterior shot on location, or a cutaway to the kitchen. In the main, it was that large set of the Rimmington's living room that we were settled into, with its front door leading straight into it from the garden. It would appear Cooney, who co-directed with TV producer Harold Snoad, wanted that theatre experience.

There were many a famous face in the cast, Hawkins would have been known for school sitcom Please Sir! and Fiander various TV roles, but Phillips had been in Carry Ons and the Doctor series, among others, though his louche image was ditched so he could play it stuffy and proper as the military man. Roy Kinnear was the gardener, June Whitfield was Phillips' wife, Ian Lavender was his daughter's boyfriend, also a military man, and the daughter was Michele Dotrice, with Windsor Davies and Don Estelle as policeman and neighbour respectively. As you can see if you're familiar with seventies television out of the UK, there were a lot of sitcom regulars here, and they were all adept in their way at wringing laughs from farce, so why did Not Now, Comrade come across as tatty? Probably because they didn't spend any more on it than they would the stage production, and it looked it, with a lack of atmosphere and energy you would get from being in the live auditorium. There was a chuckle or two when a bit of business landed, but overall, it proved that even with the best intentions, one medium is not necessarily like another. Music by Harry Robertson, with Estelle singing the theme song.

[Network release this on Blu-ray as part of The British Film, with the trailer and an image gallery as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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