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There's no film quite like Peter Ustinov's Vice Versa, the clever
playfulness is constant and yet is never so overpowering as to bore
you. I hadn't seen it for nearly 10 years before tonight but remembered
most of the excruciatingly erudite and formal dialogue enunciated by
the melodramatic caricatures of the ridiculously socially atrophied
Father Roger Livesey and son Anthony Newley (in his 2nd film) make unfortunate hasty wishes holding the stolen mystical Garuda Stone changing their bodies around. The upshot being the young father is sent back to boarding school to astound the natives by the middle aged son who begins to astound his butler and doctor by his sudden propensity for sherbet and ginger ale. Their separate adventures form the film, delightfully and uniquely presented and acted. Favourite bits: The courtroom bursting into The Merry Wives Of Windsor and the swift justice meted out to the duelists because the judge had to get off to Rickmansworth; Reaching for the note on the floor of the school chapel but being startlingly and loudly spotted by headmaster James Robertson Justice - my favourite film of his.
I think it might possibly help to be British or have a working knowledge of the Boys Own Paper and Victorian penny dreadfuls to fully appreciate this, or maybe just keep in mind that this is a fond and gently relentless satire on the genre. In a unique whimsical class of its own, I've always loved this Vice Versa Version but it probably won't appeal to the more serious who prefer sober message to witty inconsequentiality - and of course masochists who would hate all 97 keenly watched minutes.
Very entertaining - in a silly kind of way. Anthony Newley knocks most other child actors into a cocked hat, and Roger Livesey is very endearing: neither overplay their parts as so often happens in this kind of yarn. If you appreciate light-hearted vintage English comedy you will surely enjoy this one - I thought it superb - but don't watch it if your movies need to be in colour or have relevance to something as it's just a bit of pure fun. This said it holds the attention throughout due to it's fast-paced antics and great characterisations. Hope it's out on DVD somewhere as would love to own a copy.
Peter Ustinov is a witty literary man. His first love is the theatre, which is a form of literature and he has always tried to bring this love to the cinema. This film is based on a picaresque novel he has made immortal. Its parent-offspring body-swap theme was reprised, pilfered, borrowed and plagiarized in an untold number of similar films (and novels) with titles like "Freaky Friday" (all three versions), "Vice Versa" (1988), "Big" (1988), "18 Again!" (1988), "Like Father Like Son" (1987) and "Dream a Little Dream" (1989). Because of its cast, rhythm and wit, this film owes much to the Ealing comedies and to Powell & Pressburger's "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp". Everyone in it shines and makes the dialogue sound like it was written by Oscar Wilde on marijuana. Even little Petula Clark bravely holds her own opposite Anthony Newley (who also wrote the music), Roger Livesey and James Robertson Justice, whose blustering personality makes this film a true comedy of hypocrisies. The film is full of audacious set pieces that send up the very concept of Britishness and propriety. Its charm is of course untranslatable in any other language. As a screenwriter and filmmaker of intelligence and invention, Ustinov shows he is easily the equal of René Clair and Sacha Guitry. A must-see.
English comedy tends to fall into one of two types. The first involves the clever and often risqué use of the English language. The second involves physical or slap-stick humour. The best English comedies successfully combine both types and the 1948 version of Vice Versa is just such a comedy. To see the great Roger Livesey cavorting as a young boy is alone worth the price of admission. It is arguably easier for a young person to act old than it is for an old person to act young, mimicry being easier than regression. To carry either role off is, however, no mean feat. Anthony Newley is brilliant as the young Dick Bultitude imitating his fathers sophisticated and worldly ways. It is also great fun to watch the young Petula Clark years before she became a famous pop star. If you want to watch both the 1988 version of this story starring Judge Reinhold as well as the 1948 version, I would strongly recommend you see the 1988 version first. You will enjoy the 1988 version. The 1948 version of Vice Versa is however the definitive one. After seeing it you will be spoiled for all others.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is probably the first of a very long series of the same plot.
Switched souls in different bodies, in this case father and son. And
the first take is the best, partly because it is set in the VIctorian
era which itself is played well for laughs, and for outlandishly ornate
dialogue...But best of all for the acting...Peter Ustinov and (to my
shock when I read the credits) Anthony Newley as a boy and Petula Clark
as a young girl. Knowing that added even another layer to the fun.
I especially liked the thoughtful script which included having the boy who is just coming into puberty and finds himself in an adult body with mustache and all chasing the maid around for a kiss which he wants but isn't sure why and is appropriately confused at both her refusal and his own sudden desires. Very clever and something completely overlooked in later versions.
The ending has a fun twist, too, and made me think that if I were still a young boy I'd be on the lookout for such a magic stone as switched father and son in this film.
A funny first you'll enjoy watching and which is suitable for all ages to enjoy together without embarrassment.
We've seen plenty of films where some bit of magic occurs and two
characters are forced to trade places. "Vice Versa" is another from
that mold. It takes place in Victorian England and involves a stuffy
father and his son, who must endure the hardships of a proper boys
boarding school run by a humorless martinet with sadistic tendencies.
Though the film is comedy, its pedigree is straight from melodrama. The characters posture and pontificate--intentionally--so that Dudley Do-Right would fit right in. No matter where the story goes, this tone keeps it light.
For someone interested in filmographies, the prominence of young Anthony Newley and Petula Clark in the cast is noteworthy. Newley has to play two roles, in essence--both the young son and the father in the wrong body.
This is not a great film. And much of the story is predictable. Still, it is entertaining and a glimpse at British humor in the late forties.
In the tradition of films like TURNABOUT and FREAKY Friday, VICE VERSA
attaches the theme to a couple of males this time, in a British comedy
written and directed by Peter Ustinov that tries too hard to be clever,
but succeeds, instead, in being exceedingly foolish.
ANTHONY NEWLEY is a Victorian schoolboy who trades places with his stuffy British father by wishing on a magic stone from India. Newley brings his father's knowledge and stuffiness to the school that he returns to, much to the bewilderment of his classmates and professors. The father, ROGER LIVESEY, adopts childish preferences rather than smoking his favored cigars and confounds his household servants.
You have to be a fan of overly broad, non-subtle British humor to fully enjoy this comedy. Most of it is beyond silly, however delightful the performances are. Especially absurd is the confrontation of battle swords in a duel over a young woman, played for zany humor but somehow missing the mark.
None of it can be taken seriously, so your enjoyment of the story will depend entirely on whether or not you favor this sort of humor. Newley does a decent enough job as the young boy and Livesey seems to be enjoying himself in a comic role, looking and sounding an awful lot like Nigel Bruce behind his scruffy mustache.
Anyone with a sharp eye will notice that so many of the story ingredients are used in FREAKY Friday, but American style.
Too overdone for my taste.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Based on the 1882 novel of the same name by F. Antsey, this is an only
intermittently funny comedy. The script by Peter Ustinov is often
hilarious in its first half with its eccentric characters and their
lavish way of speaking but there are considerably fewer laughs in the
second half. The duel and courtroom scenes are overlong and pretty
pointless, producing no more than a few smiles. On the bright side,
Ustinov's direction is generally more consistent than his writing but I
think that his real talent lay in acting.
The 16-year-old Anthony Newley gives the best performance in the film as Paul Bultitude, the pompous middle-aged stockbroker who unexpectedly changes places with his 13-year-old son Dickie after wishing to relive the carefree days of his boyhood while holding the stolen eye of an Indian idol. Newley does a pitch perfect imitation of Roger Livesey's distinctive manner of speaking and Paul's arrogance and imperiousness lands him in plenty of trouble at Dickie's boarding school Grimstone Academy. Livesey is certainly very good as Dickie but an actor of his calibre is mostly wasted in the film's uninspired scenes of a overgrown child in an adult world. The comic potential of such a scenario is not explored nearly as effectively as in other films on the same subject.
James Robertson Justice as the equally pompous headmaster Dr. Grimstone is the only other actor who is used as well as he could be. Newley's fellow 1960s pop star Petula Clark has a nice if comparatively small role as his daughter Dulcie. Bill Shine is very funny as Lord Gosport in his first scene, which makes the duel scene all the more disappointing, and Kay Walsh is quite good as Paul's less than trustworthy girlfriend Fanny Verlayne. It also features nice appearances from Harcourt Williams, Alfie Bass and a very young Peter Jones as Dickie and later Paul's nemesis Chawner.
Overall, this has its moments but it could have been much better.
VICE VERSA (1948), a sort of proto-FREAKY_FRIDAY story about a father
and son switching places, is a delightful British comedy in the vein
of, perhaps, KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (1949), brought to you by
theatrical Renaissance man Peter Ustinov, who wrote, produced, and
directed the film (but does not appear on-screen).
The action is set around the turn of the century and involves a magic wish-granting stone, stolen from a temple in India. When young Dick Bultitude protests being sent back to his boarding school, his blustery father (holding the stone) makes an off-hand remark about wishing to be young again. Soon the elder Bultitude finds himself in the body of a schoolboy, the spitting image of his own son. And Dick grabs the stone and wishes to be grown-up, filling out the body of his middle-aged father. Understandably, everyone mistakes Dick for his father and vice versa, sending the father off to school in the boy's place and leaving the son to manage the father's affairs at home.
The dual performances by the two main actors are superb, with an adolescent Anthony Newley (later to star in DOCTOR DOLITTLE and write songs for WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY in a varied entertainment career) doing a spot-on imitation of Roger Livesey's Bultitude Sr. and Livesey in turn acting believably childish as a boy in a man's body. Each actor gives such a distinctly different performance after the body swap that it's no trouble believing that Newley IS a fifty-year-old man or that Livesey IS a boy of fourteen, despite the absurdity of it all. And from there the hijinks are a lot of fun.
Ustinov's film has a wonderful flair for comedy, from the charmingly old-timey title slides to the bookending narrative device that breaks the fourth wall, inviting the audience into the Bultitude home. The literate script uses stuffy British propriety to humorous effect, particularly through the characters of Paul Bultitude (the father) and James Robertson Justice's strict headmaster Dr. Grimstone. There's also a madcap farce of a duel and a subsequent courtroom scene that's a riot.
The unscrupulous Marmaduke (David Hutcheson) gives a stolen jewelled
eye to Paul (Roger Livesey) as a gift. Paul summons his son, Dickie
(Anthony Newley) for a chat before he is sent off to his new term at
boarding school. However, the jewel has the power to allow a wish to
come true for whoever holds it. Unwittingly, the stuffy Paul wishes to
be young again and in turn, the mischievous Dickie wishes to be older.
The rest of the film follows the antics of the now mature Dickie at
school and the now immature Paul at home before they swap back at the
end of the film and everything that has gone wrong becomes resolved.
There is even a nice romantic surprise for Paul at the end.......
What sounds like a fun film is badly let down by OTT British silliness. While there are some funny moments, the truth is that there are far more unfunny moments that leave the viewer thinking "This is tedious". A case in question involves a long, drawn-out duel sequence combined with a court scene that lasts about half an hour and isn't at all funny. Not once did I laugh at the tiresome antics that were played out infront of me. My girlfriend fell asleep during this part after the film had shown early flashes of promise. This meant that she missed the film's only other funny moment after that, namely, when Dickie is travelling back on the train smoking a cigar and throws over some matches to a fellow passenger who asks for a light. The film needed far more of this kind of humour to make it good.
The main characters do well despite the silly script and the silly manner in which the story is sometimes acted. What a shame that the film is more boring than funny.
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