The "Old Mother Riley" series of comedies, starring Arthur Lucan (in drag) as an Irish scrubwoman, and his wife Kitty McShane as Mother Riley's daughter, are all quite dire, but this one is the worst entry in the series. At least the other entries have titles which give you some sense of their plotlines, but "Old Mother Riley's New Venture" has a distressingly generic title which strongly implies that the film went into production before its script was written.
It certainly feels that way, too. About 20 minutes into the film, it seems to be about a stolen gem called the Hoola Diamond (is that name meant to be funny)? Then the diamond goes unmentioned for several reels while Mother Riley gets suspected of murder. Then the plot shifts gears again.
The film opens with a vaguely amusing routine about a Lowell Thomas-like newsreel narrator whose script doesn't match his visuals. This leads into a long boring exposition scene with no laughs at all. Mr Grigsby is the workaholic owner and operator of a posh hotel. He hasn't had a holiday in years, because he can't trust anyone to run the hotel in his absence. Then he suddenly decides to take a holiday after all, and (get this) he decides to hand over his authority to the very next person who walks through his door. So of course that person is Old Mother Riley. One of my least favourite cliches is the one about the plain-spoken prole with no education who takes over a huge business concern and immediately does a better job than all the educated experts. For a moment, I thought "Old Mother Riley's New Venture" would fulfil that cliche. Instead, it does something worse.
Arthur Lucan, neither Irish nor female, was never convincing as Daphne Snowdrop Riley (as her name is given here), but in this film his panto-dame impersonation is even worse than usual. The film's first shot of Mother Riley is a close-up of her hands holding a dish, while we hear her voice offscreen. This is a terrible directorial decision, because it emphasises Lucan's hands and falsetto brogue, which were the least convincing parts of his female impersonation.
There is one good gag here, which must have earned a rueful laugh in postwar Britain, as Mother Riley smashes several plates, finds one plate that's unbreakable, and turns it over to discover that the underside bears the words 'EXPORT ONLY'. A more typical 'joke' occurs when Mother Riley is challenged to provide the exact date of an event, and she answers: 'How should I know? My name is Old Mother Riley, not Old Moore.' (This is an unfunny reference to an almanac publisher.)
In this film, unlike most of the other Mother Riley instalments, Kitty McShane speaks her lines in a brogue, and her dialogue gives her several 'Oirish' figures of speech. She also attempts to impress us with her vocal talents in a long dull production number built upon 'I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen'. This occurs in a St Patrick's Day sequence, in which several Anglo-Irish tipplers get nostalgic for the auld sod (no, not Arthur Lucan; I mean Ireland). I can abide it when Americans or Australians of Irish descent get nostalgic for distant Hibernia, but I have very little patience for Irish immigrants and Anglo-Irish who get shamrock-happy while living in England. If it's so wonderful back home in Ireland, why don't you jump on a ferry?
Sebastian Cabot (the only actor who worked with Jerry Lewis, Bob Dylan AND Old Mother Riley) shows up briefly as a sheikh who can't speak English, so we get a long dialogue scene when his aide (also Arabian) speaks to him in pidgin English. Can't these Arabs speak Arabian?
SPOILERS COMING NOW. It gets worse. Grigsby goes on holiday and leaves no forwarding address. Then he dies in an accident, and it turns out he died intestate. (This fool is a businessman?) Then it turns out he wasn't dead after all.
I did like one clever touch, during a scene in which police inspectors question Old Mother Riley as a murder suspect. We see the hands on a clock revolving rapidly to show the passage of many hours. Yes, plenty of films have used this visual device ... but here, the hands move rapidly in accelerated time while we continue to hear Mother Riley's and the detectives' voices speaking offscreen in normal time. I've never encountered this visual device used over dialogue before. There are also a couple of clever optical wipes.
Gobsmackingly, this film ends with a pie fight! There are one or two vaguely original gags here, but suddenly - in the midst of the pie fight - the film cuts to some guy we've never seen before, sitting in a canvas chair and shouting 'Give me more! Give me more!' Huh? Who's he? It took me a few seconds to realise that this guy is supposed to be the director of the movie we've been watching ... and, for all I know, the man appearing onscreen in this shot might actually be John Harlow, the man who directed this mess. This gimmick is so confusing, the scene loses any comic momentum it possessed. He gets hit with a pie (he deserves one), and then the travelogue narrator (from the very beginning of the movie) gets hit with a pie too. What a proper mess! I have a great fondness for variety-hall British comedy, but I don't ever want to see "Old Mother Riley's New Venture" again. I'll rate this rubbish 1 point out of 10. Faith and bejabbers!
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