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The honest locksmith duped by the crooks only sees the light
when he has to open the Tower of London. The cannonball &
Bobby are a hoot.
This is an underrated little gem of a film. As long as you like the Pre-Python dry Brit farces.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Whenever a comedian hits the big time on television, the obvious
temptation is to try and extend that success by venturing into the
cinema. Many have tried and failed, including Morecambe and Wise, Allen
and Rossi, Steve Coogan, Ant and Dec and, more recently, Horne and
Corden. Charlie Drake was no exception - his previous films -
'Petticoat Pirates' ( 1960 ) and 'Sands Of The Desert' ( 1961 ) failed
to set the world alight. Not his fault, of course, it was just that his
brand of knockabout slapstick was better suited to the small screen (
it makes me glad there was never a movie version of 'Some Mothers Do
Ave Em' ). However, Charlie's third cinematic offering - 'The
Cracksman' - unexpectedly turned out a little beauty. He plays 'Ernest
Wright', master locksmith per excellence. When Beefeaters get locked
out of the Tower of London, its Ernest they turn to for help. A gang of
criminals, headed by nightclub owner Domino ( Ed Byrnes ) wants him to
steal priceless jewels from a museum. Sensing his incorruptibility,
they give him a criminal record by making him the unwitting dupe in a
series of robberies.
As you'd expect from a Charlie Drake comedy, there's plenty of slapstick, but also an effective element of pathos - when Wright gets out of prison and his former friends shun him, it is a genuinely moving moment. The gang's plan is a little unbelievable; they seem prepared to wait up to three years for Ernest to steal the jewels, but its done so well you don't really care. George Sanders is his usual smooth self as rival crime boss 'The Guv'nor', while Nyree Dawn Porter shows a real flair for comedy as an undercover policewoman. In addition, the Lew Schwarz and Charlie Drake penned script manages to squeeze in parodies of 'Dr.No' and 'Birdman Of Alcatraz'! The prison scene features Ronnie Barker as a prototype 'Norman Stanley Fletcher'. Finlay Currie, Neil McCarthy, Dennis Price, Wanda Ventham, Norman Bird, and Percy Herbert all add to the fun.
Charlie only made one other film - the somewhat flat 'Mister Ten Per Cent' ( 1966 ), also directed by Peter Graham Scott.
Funniest moment - Ernest sliding down a fireman's pole in his pyjamas. Reaching the bottom, he finds that one leg has got caught round the pole!
Second funniest moment - Ernest knocking out the Guv'nor with a boomerang. He catches it, exclaiming excitedly: "It came back that time!", a reference to the comic's novelty hit 'My Boomerang Won't Come Back'!
A real cracker of a British comedy!
British comedian Charlie Drake is an acquired taste, and at his best as the hapless "cracksman" of the title in this modest little spoof of crime pictures. The script is sharper than one might expect from this kind of film, and little Charlie is up to his ears in trouble. His endearing innocence (if not talent) suggests a contemporary version of Chaplin; while his physical appearance suggests the love child of Ned Beatty and Mickey Rooney, making him wholly appropriate for comedy,--and nothing else. He plays so well with bad guy George Sanders, who really comes to life here, that I can almost imagine them as a comedy team, which sounds ludicrous I know, as they would have seemed so incongruous together, but then again comedy teams generally do,
I hadn't seen anything with Charlie Drake since I was a child. This was on
TV recently and I watched it out of sheer boredom. Gradually, I got
engrossed in it and found that it contained moments of sheer
I think that Charlie Drake is a forgotten comedy hero who beats his contemporaries hands-down when it comes to acting ability.
Gullible master locksmith (Drake) is continually duped into using his
lock-picking prowess to commit unsuspecting crimes for the dapper con
artist Dennis Price and his shady associates. Judge Geoffrey Keen
initially sentences him to one year's probation, but after a number of
other ruses in which he's left holding the baby, so to speak, he's
incarcerated and quickly earns the respect of fellow inmates for his
sleight of hand (albeit inadvertent). But a stint in the big house
isn't going to cure his credulity and he's duly enlisted in another
scam on his release.
Drake looks like Gordon Jackson in Richard Attenborough's stout frame, and he has great comic timing, playing a character so innocent and optimistic, it's impossible not to form sympathy for his constant exploitation. Percy Herbert co-stars as the gaol-house heavy with whom Drake forms an enduring friendship, and the lovely Nyree Dawn Porter is the refined beauty assigned to seduce Drake into a daring safe-cracking job, organised by heavyweight mobster Eddie Byrne. The impeccable cast also features George Sanders, Dennis Price, Finlay Currie and Neil McCarthy (as Drake's slightly unusual cell-mates), Norman Bird and Ronnie Barker in an audition for "Porridge".
Quite typical of the British comedies of the era (in fact the giant marrow scene could have even been borrowed from "Two-Way Stretch"), with more than a few chuckles (the gaol break to collect bird seed or the balloon scene in which Drake is plied with champagne spring to mind) and if there's a criticism, it's the epic near two-hour duration which could have been far more economical. And sorry to disappoint, though Robert Shaw is credited in this movie on IMDb, and no disrespect intended, it's actually Richard Shaw who plays the minor role of "Moke" in the movie.
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