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  I Only Arsked! Harem Scarum
Year: 1958
Director: Montgomery Tully
Stars: Bernard Bresslaw, Michael Medwin, Alfie Bass, Geoffrey Sumner, Charles Hawtrey, Norman Rossington, David Lodge, Arthur Howard, Marne Maitland, Michael Bentine, Francis Matthews, Michael Ripper, Wolfe Morris, Ewan MacDuff, Marie Devereux
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Orders have arrived from on high to post a selection of soldiers and their commanding officer to a small Middle Eastern country whose King is desperately searching for oil on his territory. Back in Britain, an out of the way army camp receives the orders, and the Major (Geoffrey Sumner) is dismayed that he will have to leave his pet pig behind - his wife, he's not so bothered about. Accompanying him will be the Sergeant Major (David Lodge), but to garner the five soldiers needed, he fools them into thinking they are volunteering for a dance. "Never volunteer for anything" was the code Corporal Springer (Michael Medwin) lived by, and when they find out they've been tricked, the soldiers are not amused...

It all started here: the British sitcom movie. And appropriately it was a Hammer production, considering they would go on to adapt some of the most successful sitcoms during the nineteen-seventies, including the On the Buses films. Here the original Granada series was The Army Game and some, but not all, of the cast returned for the movie version of what was already a smash hit on television, with the title coming from one of the catchphrases of the terminallly dim Private Popplewell (Bernard Bresslaw) - you'll be glad that it's held over until the last line of the film.

Scripted by Sid Colin and Jack Davies, I Only Arsked! was an example of a once-popular genre that fell by the wayside in British film, the army comedy. Since National Service was scrapped, perhaps not enough of the potential audience had gone through the military experience, and nowadays the Army doesn't seem quite as funny anymore, so it's doubtful we'll see a return, except as a Private's Progress style of the more satirical tale. But let's not forget the first Carry On movie was Carry On Sergeant, an effort not a million miles away from this.

Not that I Only Arsked! hits those heights. Once our heroes reach the Middle East the British ambassador (Arthur Howard) cannot hide his disappointment at the tiny number of them, especially as the natives are restless. I say natives, but they're played by white actors with dusky makeup on, and this being a Hammer film, even Michael Ripper gets to appear in blackface. What follows is the soldiers wanting to go home until they find out the King's harem is nearby, whereupon they find a secret passageway there that makes their stay go a lot easier. There are a handful of easy chuckles, although this is pretty obviously a TV project; that's not to say it's unenjoyable, but it's only mild entertainment at best. Its minor place in cinematic history is assured, of course. Music by Benjamin Frankel, and star Alfie Bass contributes his own tearfully homesick song as well.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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