Somewhere on Leave (1943)
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You might say these films have worn badly, but on the evidence available, they were never much good to begin with. Somewhere on Leave features the ageing stars as unlikely recruits in the army, getting involved in various slapstick sequences involving horses, a piano, a trampoline, etc, as well as the expected run-ins with the regiment's sergeant major. There are also a couple of irrelevant song and dance sequences, the opportunity for the actors to play a scene in drag, and the obligatory comedy drunk scene.
The writers intercut the comic scenes with a stilted romance between the two young leads, and even manage to shoehorn a propaganda message into the film about the breaking down of class barriers. There are a couple of old gags which almost work, but they are usually let down by the poor delivery and ham-fisted direction. The director (John E. Blakeley) has a penchant for placing his camera so that the actors are looking almost directly into it when they are supposed to be talking to each other, making the dialogue scenes even more stilted than they already are. I've seen some bad films over the years, but the opening scenes, between Toni Lupino and her friend, contain probably the worst acting I've ever seen on film. The actors are extraordinarily stilted, as they talk about Lupino's parent's death in an air raid, as if they are discussing which hat to wear tonight. The acting is bad enough to make it a strong contender for the most unintentionally funny scene in film history.
Running this scene a close second is one involving an anti-aircraft battery. The guns are shown shooting down a German bomber - cut to a shot of an open-cockpit First World War biplane being hit! In the next shot, the plane is a World War Two bomber again. You would think a 1942 audience would know the difference between a wood and string built 1915 biplane and a WWII bomber, but it's indicative of the film makers contempt for the audience, as if they think they'll accept any old rubbish.
Its tempting to make allowances and put the film's ineptitude down to the difficulties producing films in wartime. But then, the British industry also produced Thunder Rock, Colonel Blimp, Went the Day Well? and In Which We Serve within a year of this film, proving this film is more of an aberration than anything.
The fact that several reviews have now appeared for this film on IMDb suggests that the other viewers took the same opportunity to watch this as I did, on a very rare BBC2 showing. On this evidence, however, its easy to see why its shown so rarely, and I can't imagine there's much danger of another airing for quite a long time.
The film opens with a terribly wooden dialogue scene that wins the prize for mentioning the title of the film but also wins a prize for being one of the most painfully establishing scenes I've seen in quite some time. After this we vary wildly in tone. Scattered here and there are "straight" scenes that are supposed to provide some sort of narrative to hold the film together. Ignoring the success of this for the moment, the reason for this attempt at backbone is that the rest of the film essentially consists of music hall comic sketches that fit broadly in with the "military service" scenario. I think it probably goes without saying that the straight scenes are as painful as the opening scene but fortunately they are surprisingly infrequent.
What makes up the majority then is this rather "cheeky chappy" comedy that is interesting even if it doesn't really offer much beyond this. What I speak of is "laughter", which is of course its main aim. Maybe it is the passage of time rather than the fact it is not very good, but the film isn't that funny and really it just seems chaotic. This is where it is interesting because it does capture the feeling of working class, music hall humour; OK it is not a great example of it but it is still a way into this long gone world. This access is provided by the cheeky capering of Randle, Korris and Vincent, all of whom offer quick fire disrespect to authority figures. Their material isn't that good but their delivery is funny and strangely quaint. I liked Cobbe's turn but it is terrible to watch Lupino and McGrath creaking their way through their "straight" scenes.
Overall then this is a film that is creaking not only with age but also with the wooden performances of some of the actors. The laughs are sparse and it has dated but I suppose it does have a certain historical and cultural value as a snapshot of a style of humour from yesteryear.
In the world of "Somewhere on Leave", the whole business of the war seemingly exists only to to 'broaden' over-mothered young men, and to provide a supply of nubile females in uniform for a spot of matchmaking. Watching this film, I was reminded of 'Fatty' Arbuckle's supposed dictum that a comedian should never forget that the mental age of the audience is never more than 12 years old; I'd say that's more or less the age this picture is pitched to, and unfortunately it's no custard-pie slapstick event. As the TV set flickered, I could hear the ghost of audience laughter from an undemanding cigarette-smoke-filled auditorium, back in the Forties -- sadly, none of that laughter was mine. This is not my type of humour at all.