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Old Mother Riley (Arthur Lucan)and Kitty Riley (Kitty McShane)are shop
assistants in a failing antique shop. Befriended by the ghost of the
infamous Captain Morgan, Old Mother Riley is directed to a map detailing
location of the captains buried treasure; whereupon they set off to find
their fortune. Despite a gang of crooks and angry natives being hot on
heels, Old Mother Riley manages as ever to save the day!
This is a delightful little romp from Arthur Lucan and his Wife Kitty, along with a notable appearance from Peter Butterworth; who later went on to appear in some of the long running British 'Carry-On' films.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'You look like Old Mother Riley!' said Harold Steptoe in the classic 1972
sitcom episode 'Die Now, PAYE Later', upon discovering his father Albert in
women's clothes. Actually, Wilfrid Brambell in drag looked a lot more like a
biological female than Arthur Lucan ever did, but the joke reveals how
popular Old Mother Riley continues to be in Britain.
The Old Mother Riley films starred Lucan (in drag) as Irish washerwoman Pansy Snowdrop Bluebell Riley, and Lucan's real-life (and much younger) wife Kitty McShane as Mother Riley's daughter Kitty. 'Mother Riley's Jungle Treasure' is the last instalment but one in this series, and the last to include McShane. She and Lucan feuded constantly, and by 1951 the marriage had become so estranged that it split up the act. It's interesting to compare Arthur Lucan's marriage to that of an even more popular English comedian of this period: George Formby. Lucan and Formby were both dominated by their wives, both couples feuded constantly, and most of the feuds were about money. In Formby's case, all the arguments took place behind closed doors, even though everyone who worked with Formby knew his wife to be a shrew. In Lucan's case, he and his wife feuded so publicly that sometimes their onstage act would degenerate into a genuine argument over offstage affairs!
'Old Mother Riley's Jungle Treasure', which has a bigger production budget than usual, begins in the 17th century, on a Caribbean island. (The dialogue gives its exact position in 'longitude north' and 'latitude west': that's the script's error, not mine!) Morgan the pirate (a ham-scented performance by Sebastian Cabot) watches as two of his swabbies bury his treasure. Yo-ho, me hearties. The swabbies speak with Cockney accents from the Dick Van Dyke Bad Accent School, so Morgan whips out two flintlock pistols and shoots them dead. (They die offscreen, to protect Mother Riley's "U" certificate.) Morgan hides the treasure map in his bedframe, then dies without reclaiming the treasure.
SOME SPOILERS COMING. Fast-forward to 1951, where Mother Riley and Kitty are working in the antiques shop of Mr Orders (painfully obvious pun). Morgan's bedstead is in the shop; conveniently enough, so is Morgan's suit of armour. Apparently he died in it, because now his ghost materialises in the armour (surprisingly good trick photography) and he tells Mother Riley where to find the map. Nice of him to let her have the treasure, eh? We see a shot of the armour lying down for a kip, but the stuntman inside it is clearly too tall and slim to be Sebastian Cabot.
Pretty soon, Mother Riley and Kitty and Orders have hired an aeroplane and flown off to the Caribbean jungle, which looks suspiciously like Walton-on-Thames and is inhabited by stock footage of lions, tigers and penguins ... plus several dark-skinned natives who look like they came from Africa by way of Brixton. We get the old wheeze in which the white explorer tries to communicate with a dark-skinned native by speaking pidgin, and then the native replies in flawless English. Kitty McShane goes poncing through the jungle dressed for a garden tea party in Essex. The 'jungle' atmosphere in this movie is bang dodgy without ever quite becoming laughable. This movie is so inept, I actually wonder if anyone connected with it ever twigged that lions and tigers don't live in the same biome, and neither species is Caribbean. The stock footage of the penguins is obviously a joke... probably meant to make all the other lapses in this movie look like 'deliberate mistakes', as the BBC used to call them.
There are of course some villains following Mother Riley, and seeking the same loot. The funniest (and most racist) line occurs when villainess Estelle refers to the natives as 'Kentucky minstrels'. There are also some jokes that only British audiences will get. The pilot of Mother Riley's 'plane is named Prang. (RAF slang for a crash landing.) We hear references to scoring a century at Marylebone Cricket Club, Man Utd beating Arsenal, post-war rationing, and a young man expecting a call-up for national service. The ghost of Morgan the pirate, last seen in that antiques shop, has no difficulty materialising on the Caribbean island at the climax, when Mother Riley and her friends are about to get burned at the stake. (Which would make them the only things "well done" in this bad comedy. Ooh, matron!)
Considering how many dark-skinned natives are on offer here (some of them played by white actors in body paint), there is much less racism and unga-bunga than I'd expected. One of the white men in Mother Riley's expedition (supposedly the good guys) hopes to encounter some natives so that he can force them to work as porters. The convenient gimmick that rescues Old Mother Riley from the natives is obvious a mile off, and the ending is anticlimactic. Distressingly, at least two of the male characters in this movie express romantic affection for Old Mother Riley ... even though Lucan's drag performance doesn't remotely resemble a biological woman!
On the plus side, late in this film the natives perform a very impressive display of rapid athletic movement that's either an authentic African folk dance or an extremely convincing imitation of one. More for that dancing than anything else, I'll rate this movie 2 points out of 10. Fans of Sebastian Cabot (ARE there any fans of Sebastian Cabot?) will be intrigued to see what he was doing before he wiped the snotty noses of those brats Buffy and Jody.
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