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For its first nine-and-one-half minutes, "Penny Points To Paradise" is the most inauspicious cinematic experience imaginable, featuring limited comic acting, bad jokes, and a non-existent story.
Then we cut to a dining room where a certain major is sitting at table, and just like that, we have before us the beginning of one of the greatest comedy careers in movie history.
After that, however, "Penny Points" returns to being a rather dull affair.
Peter Sellers either has two or four roles in this, his first ever movie, one more or one less than he did in "Dr. Strangelove". None are key roles. One, the Major character, is a bit of a schemer whose main bits are fumbling the meaning of the word "Spondulicks" and cadging drinks for stock shares in a dubious entity called "The North Pole Coconut Corp." Sellers also has another brief speaking part, as a fast- talking Canadian salesman, while his other two roles are as a non- speaking runner and a spectator at a shotput meet during a brief fantasy interlude. From such stones the builders rejected...
Far more at the fore are Sellers' two main co-stars, from what was then known as "Crazy People" and would become "The Goons." Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe dominate this movie, the latter much more than the former. There's rather too much of Secombe, in fact, mugging and gurning his way through every scene like Micky Dolenz on speed. Of course, his repartee is a darn sight weaker than your average "Monkees" episode.
"Take away her blond hair, and what do you got?" he's asked.
"The most beautiful bald-headed woman in Brighton," he answers.
Or when his character explains his reluctance about leaving his vast fortune in a bank. "I don't trust banks...Even the blood bank's asking for donations!"
At least Milligan is relatively sedate here, not trying to outdo Secombe in the Silly Faces Dept. like he would in the later Goon Show film "Down Among The Z Men."
The story, what there is of it, follows Harry's character, named "Harry" for easy reference, as he tries to hold on to his 100,000-quid in soccer-match winnings (the "Penny Points" of the title) while various sharpies try to make off with it. Chief among them is the counterfeiter Haynes, played with grandiloquent stuffiness by Alfred Marks, who makes the most of what was also HIS first-ever film appearance. In fact, Marks comes across more interesting here than Sellers.
The film shows all signs of being made very much on the cheap. Look closely (or not so closely) at the finale at Louis Tussaud's Waxworks show, where the actors move around a set filled with people imitating wax models. I figured it was a set-up for a joke, but no, we are meant to think these "waxworks," blinking eyes and all, are exactly that. Someone found it easier to rent real humans than wax dummies. Being England in the 1950s, I'm not surprised.
Director Tony Young went on to remake "Goon Show" episodes for British TV as "The Telegoons;" here he appears "by permission" of producer Alan Cullimore, who in turn appears "by permission" of Tony Young. Must have been quite a set. Young sets the right anarchic precedent for directors of Sellers film comedies to follow; he manages some impressive Brighton scenics but seems utterly adrift when it comes to establishing story. Much of the film is left to various actors, especially Secombe, playing to the camera as a squeamish doctor or a wild ape. One female cast member does a pretty good Bette Davis, though why she's playing the role is something we don't get much of an answer for.
That's the takeaway on "Penny Points," in fact, a lot of playing to the camera. Sellers himself is largely lost as the one actor not guilty of overacting. He had his miscues in later films; here his fault lies not in his own performance than failing to stand out in a film he was better off avoiding in the first place.
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