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|2 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Minister (Paul Eddington) is involved in the usual tussle with the
Permanent Secretary (Nigel Hawthorne), this time over the Department's
evidence to the Central Policy Review Staff. Hacker wants to do his own
draft for the review, but the civil servants are aghast at this. As
usual, the repartee between Hacker and Sir Humphrey is excellent, with
Humphrey managing to imply that everything Hacker suggests is beneath
Sir Humphrey has successfully frustrated Hacker's previous plans for reform of the civil service, in earlier episodes, so the Minister is determined to force change through this time. However, his proposal for phased reductions in the civil service proves to be something of an own-goal, and it's left to Sir Humphrey to try to pull the Department's chestnuts out of the fire. But can even Humphrey successfully play-off the Central Policy Review Staff against the Prime Minister?
This comedy features a delightful array of well-known British character
actors of the 1960's, including the lovely Terry-Thomas (well to the fore
this picture), the eccentric Lionel Jeffries, and the diminutive comic
Terry-Thomas is best remembered for his villainous roles in the films 'Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines' and 'Monte Carlo or Bust', two of the finest comedies of the period, in which his comic villain stole both pictures.
'Rocket to the Moon' is a film in a very similar vein. Terry-Thomas is once again playing a dastardly villain, who is frightfully English, don't-you-know? The plot is likewise a madcap costume romp, set decades earlier. And, like the other two pictures, it trades on the period charm of its historical setting - at one point the villainous Sir Harry (played by Terry-Thomas), refuels his gas-driven jalopy by stealing the gas from a Victorian street lamp.
The plan to send a rocket to the moon, in the name of Queen Victoria, manned by diminutive comic Jimmy Clitheroe, is entirely in keeping with the equally mad idea of flying an aeroplane from London to Paris in the earlier film, in which Terry-Thomas also played a dastardly, scheming and titled bounder.
'Rocket to the Moon' takes a step forward, as this time an American comedian is included in the cast, in the person of Burl Ives, as a scheming Yankee showman who wants only to make a fast buck out of the whole enterprise. This gives him rather an advantage over Tony Curtis, who had to play the role that he was given in 'Monte Carlo or Bust', as the sole American star, mostly straight, as romantic lead and chief fall-guy.
The first snag in the plan is that Lionel Jeffries' design for the moon rocket is an obvious damp squib. So Dennis Price kicks him off the project, and he teams up with the dastardly Sir Harry, in order to sabotage it. Sabotage is Terry-Thomas's main activity in both the other pictures, so he's well in character here.
As in both the other pictures, too, Gert Frobe appears in character, as the mad Prussian. This time he's invented a new explosive, one which he reckons will be capable of hurling the rocket up to the moon. But he and his assistants may perish in the attempt to test-fire it.
This is gentle comedy, with a whimsical edge. It's great fun, but it depends on an appreciation of the links between this picture and the other two - and on a liking for whimsical Sixties comedy.
A picture with the main aim of recruiting a tiny astronaut, because all that can be built is a tiny rocketship, is guaranteed to be fairly whimsical. Variety star Jimmy Clitheroe, best remembered today from his radio series 'The Clitheroe Kid', gives a splendidly comic performance as General Tom Thumb, an innocent who Burl Ives intends to "con" into the job of the astronaut.
This is a great film, drawing laughs equally from the slightly mad but lovable characters, the running gags with the two related pictures, and the snags that bedevil the moonship scheme itself. A picture featuring a character as eccentric as Jimmy Clitheroe the Kid Himself - how can it fail. Don't some mothers 'ave 'em?
Stephen Poppitt & Sandra Skuse