I am not a fan of the soap opera in question, and with Reg Varney appearing in this film in a non-comedy role, I was unsure of what to expect.
The story is simple. A caravan park entertainer, whose act is very much in the music hall tradition, has delusions of grandeur. He has grand ambitions but doesn't succeed. His world is shaken when he comes to the realisation that things are not going well in his life, and that he seems to be losing everything he has got - the popularity of his act, the love from his wife, security of employment, among other things. I won't say more about the plot since to do so would ruin the experience of watching this excellent film.
The first time I saw THE BEST PAIR OF LEGS IN THE BUSINESS about 20 years back, I didn't like it. I think at the time I was not ready to see Reg Varney playing anything other than a comedy role, preferably his Stan Butler character from ON THE BUSES. Also, it felt to me that the comedy and drama didn't really mix all that well. And I think I actually fell asleep watching it.
Having seen it for a second time earlier this week, my view has totally changed.
I have also seen the TV version from 1968. Enjoyable though that version is, I can say without any doubt that this film version is superior in every way. There is more comedy and the film seems to revolve much more around Varney, which is really the point of the original story. The TV version seems to spend more time focusing on the other characters, and feels a bit too much like an extended episode of a soap opera, albeit a good one.
The comedy routines in this film version are far more enjoyable and memorable. I can't get the "everybody here loves Sherry" ditty out of my head. Reg Varney clearly enjoys playing the camp comedian role and is a delight to watch. The delivery of his lines is spot-on. Reg Varney became typecast as Stan Butler. This film proved he was so much more, given the opportunity.
Just because the film has more comedy than the TV version, don't assume that there is less effective drama because you couldn't be more wrong. Varney is actually less restrained in the concluding scenes than in the TV version.
The film version overall also feels much more energetic. It's longer than the TV version by more than 40 minutes. Yet it doesn't feel padded out at all. The extra scenes are all great, and the meeting between Varney and the parents of the girl his son wants to marry is not to be missed. It's a classic scene that mixes comedy and drama so brilliantly.
The film version also has better stars playing the supporting roles, with excellent performances from Diana Coupland and Jean Harvey especially. The former gives what I consider to be her best career performance in this film. The latter is someone I wish had appeared in more films, rather than being confined to TV.
The camerawork is better and the presence of musical cues heightens the impact where appropriate, making the acting performances even more effective. There is not one poor performance anywhere in this film. Even a young Johnny Briggs is delightful to watch, playing a barman.
What this film manages to do most effectively, though, is combine comedy of the Carry on films variety, with some very poigant drama. Kudos to writer Kevin Laffan and director Christopher Hodson for achieving this, because it is not easy to do. I remember for example when I watched Norman Wisdom in the film, WHAT'S GOOD FOR THE GOOSE?. He was playing a role that was a combination of half comic and half serious, as Varney does in this film, and the drama just didn't mix well with the comedy. One scene in that film is very depressing too much, and I wish it had not been included. THE BEST PAIR OF LEGS IN THE BUSINESS avoids this pitfall, and there is not one scene I would take out of it.
The only real flaw in the film is that the conclusion does get a bit too depressing, not least because the acting performances are so brilliant. I would have preferred a happier ending. But this is a minor gripe about an otherwise superb film.
On a final note, THE BEST PAIR OF LEGS IN THE BUSINESS is a great film that combines comedy and drama very effectively indeed, and makes full use of the talents of its main star - the late, great Reg Varney. It is a film I intend to watch many more times in the future.