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One of a hoard of service comedies that hit the British cinema screens
in the late '50's, early '60's, 'Up The Creek' is far from being the
best or most memorable. Basically it is a cross between radio's 'The
Navy Lark' and the later 'Watch Your Stern' , with a bit of 'Bilko'
mixed in, as 'silly ass' David Tomlinson, a rocket mad navy officer, is
given command of a navy vessel and forced to contend with the schemes
of his Chief Petty Officer (Peter Sellers).
Sellers is perhaps the main reason for watching this movie and its fun to see him in this, his very first starring role. But, to be honest, it's probably his least memorable performance of this period, never reaching the heights of his work in 'The Naked Truth' or 'The Battle Of The Sexes' (to name just two).
A good supporting cast helps deliver the laughs, while the under-rated Val Guest directs efficiently. The movie is fun while it is on, but ultimately it is a bit anonymous (it could be any one of a number of similar movies) and fails to live on in the memory.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Up the Creek" features the sort of plot sitcom writers co-opted and
to this very day: the clueless owner/manager/heir who buys/is
posted/inherits a ship/motel/manor where the crew/staff/butlers are
all sorts of private "industries" on the side without the
owner/manager/heir's knowledge. Then the owner/manager/heir finds out,
"hilarious hi-jinks" ensue. In this version, a certain rocket-obsessed
Navy Lieutenant Fairweather has been blowing up naval bases with his
homebuilt experimental missiles. Because he is related to the First Sea
(the British equivalent of the Secretary of the Navy,) the Admiralty
him to a Reserve Fleet ship in the wilds of Suffolk. The vessel is the
Barclay, an ancient sloop manned by a skeleton crew and "captained" by a
wheeler-dealer Irish bo'sun. The ship has been without a captain for two
years, and during that time he and the 11-man crew have developed a
of services and products which they sell in the nearby village.
Fairweather's arrival puts a crimp in the style of "Barclay Industries,
Ltd.", but as long as the crew indulges Fairweather in his plan to make
bridge into a launching platform for his ten-foot rocket, they can
their deliveries in town. However, everything comes to a head as a
horserace-obsessed admiral comes to the Navy base to do a quick
before hitting the track, but before that he wants soak up the nostalgia
touring his first command...the HMS Barclay. What happens next is like
watching one of those monster Japanese domino displays in
What really drew my interest were the actors. While "Up the Creek" is programmatic, the cast features David Tomlinson (later immortalized as Mr. Banks, the head of the household in Disney's "Mary Poppins") and Peter Sellers as the Bo'sun. At this period of his career Sellers was switching from playing supporting roles as British "ethnics", Americans, or drag characters to carrying entire movies ("The Mouse that Roared" was made after this, I think.) Both Sellers and Tomlinson make the film work, and the quick pace covers for the shopworn plot. A good rainy day movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Today the Royal Navy could ill afford to lose any ship,even one as badly run and decrepit as "HMS Barclay".In 1958 it was quite feasible for it to have disappeared from the radar without being noticed by The Admiralty. By the time the rather elderly Lt Fairweather is posted there in desperation by Their Lordships,the crew have been leading a bucolic existence for two years under the benign dictatorship of C.P.O. Docherty. A wily veteran,his dismay is soon tempered by the revelation that the new skipper is the clearly loopy inventor of a guided missile he calls the "Fairweather Falcon Mk2",the Mk1's unfortunate fate being the reason for his exile to his new command. With the unquenchable confidence of the deluded,Lt Fairweather continues with his unofficial experiments in return for a laissez - faire arrangement with his bewildered crew.All goes well until a senior officer turns up for a last trip on the ship that was his first command. The rest you can make up for yourself - to be honest it's virtually immaterial.The success of "Up the creek",like so many of its ilk, depends on the deft playing of its cast.No strangers to service comedies,they valiantly play above and beyond the call of duty and do their respective things to our complete satisfaction.Peter Sellers does a splendid CPO Docherty,smart as a whip with a spot - on accent.It is one of my personal favourites of his early performances,before he started looking for deeper meanings in his parts and he was just funny and likable.David Tomlinson comfortably dons his middle - class buffoon outfit,Wilfred Hyde - White smiles benignly and Lionel Jeffries as "Steady" Barker is very funny indeed. I laughed wholeheartedly at "Up The Creek" in 1958 and the subsequent passing of time has only added poignancy to the laughter. It's a lovely little film that you should watch if only to see what made your grandparents turn out twice a week whatever the weather and sit with wet clothes in a smoke - filled cinema and come out feeling happy.
Despite being in the Royal Navy, the Lieutenant (David Tomlinson)
spends all his time toying with his home-made rockets--with very
disastrous results. In fact, he's been bounced from base to base in an
attempt to get rid of him. Finally, in a last effort to get him out of
the way, he is given his first command...of a ship which is in
mothballs. However, what he doesn't know is that during the two years
that this aging ship has been without a commander, the crew have run
amok--and behaving very, very unlike British sailors. The leader of the
commanding officer-less ship has been the CPO (Peter Sellers). The crew
are quite reminiscent of the later American TV show "McHale's Navy"--as
they scheme, steal and even raise livestock on the boat! Yet, because
Tomlinson is pretty daft and focused on his rockets, the crew think
that, perhaps, they can continue their wayward ways without his
discovering that they're all a group of slackers.
While this is a pleasant enough film, I found one thing a bit annoying--the bouncy soundtrack that was ever-present. It seemed to try very, very hard to create a silly mood--and I don't need the music to keep reminding me this way that it's a comedy--sort of like having a laugh track. Perhaps others won't find this so noticeable, but I sure did.
Tomlinson was nice in the lead as was Sellers, though his performance was more subdued than usual--though the more of his films you see, the more you'll see that he did perform quite a few of these sort of roles in the 1950s.
As for the film, it's not particularly good though it isn't a bad time-passer if you haven't got anything better to do. The plot is a bit far-fetched and silly (not in a good way) and the ending too kooky. But otherwise it's harmless enough. But don't assume that because this is a British comedy of the 1950s that it's anything close to the quality of an Ealing film! Yes, the Brits did manage to make some mediocre comedies during this era and this is one of them.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There's nothing all too great or too horrible about this mid 50s
service comedy that was distributed by Hammer Films in "Hammerscope" --
seemingly the only reason for this film to be widescreen is so that the
giant missile that the main character (David Tomlinson) is working on
will fit in the frame. Or maybe they wrote in a giant rocket because
they were shooting it wide. This is such an arbitrary film that I
wouldn't doubt it.
Now obviously the main reason to watch this film today is Peter Sellers, who is second-billed as CPO Doherty. Sellers plays a man who has developed an elaborate scheme of graft on a dry-docked battleship; Tomlinson is a bumbling superior officer who is put in charge of the ship. There are some good fun moments when Sellers and his compatriots are trying to hide their skimming and make excuses for what they're doing, such as claiming that the pig in the rec-room is actually the ship's mascot. When Tomlinson figures out the scam and orders them to get rid of the pig and the chickens, Sellers very slyly has his men serve bacon and roast chicken to the officer so that he feels guilty (assuming that they just fried up the ship mascot).
I assume that maybe this movie was funnier at the time it was released. I guess there are probably jokes about food rationing and that type of thing that an American like myself born in the 1970s would have trouble understanding. But frankly I don't think that was much of a gem even when it was released. It's not a film with any cinematic ambitions or with any real ideas. The director Val Guest, who went on to make some of Hammer Films' most interesting and intelligent sci-fi and horror films ("The Quatermass Xperiment", "Abominable Snowman", etc.) is on autopilot here. Sellers' character work never reaches the manic levels that make him really interesting. Tomlinson seems to me painfully unfunny, and it's hard to understand how he was a comedy star at any time and in any place. But there are enough moments of light situational comedy, thanks particularly to Sellers and to Wilfrid Hyde-White (who I recognized from his prominent role in "My Fair Lady" a few years after this film) that it's pleasant enough to sit through even today.
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