Monday, 20 July 2015
BRITISH SITCOM FILMS: DAD'S ARMY (1971)
One of the better British sitcom translations from the early 70s inexplicable boom, this transfer of the much-loved show is essentially an origin story. It shows how the the titular Walmington-On-Sea's Home Guard is initially formed under its long-suffering Capt Mainwaring (Arthur Lowe)
At the start we see their leader in his civilian life as manager of Martin's Bank supported by the splendidly languid Wilson (John Le Mesurier) in a cinematic tracking shot along civvy street that takes in Jones the Butcher, Frazer the undertaker and the suitcase spiv dealings of Walker. All the welcome cast of the TV series are intact.
When the threat of coastal invasion looms courtesy of some unevenly-accented 'Chermans' (one pronounces 'General' with the English 'j' sound), the elder men of the town rush to do their bit. Pike, the mother's boy is the lone youth - and here his over-cosseted background is notably hinted as being more paternally-helped by Wilson than simply being the lanky boy's 'Uncle Arthur'.
Anyway, cometh the hour cometh the man as Mainwaring cuts through the red-tape to launch the Home Guard with himself installed as commanding officer. The composition of ranks is meant to reflect their status in the town, though conveniently he does not defer to the actual General in the squad and gifts Jones a corporal rank in return for a bribe of sausages. The full flowering of his self-serving class pretensions so vital to his character emerge here, strengthened when he falls foul of Bernard Archard's haughty customer refused a cheque-cashing and presuming him to be a mere 'bank clerk'. Unfortunately Mainwaring is later to discover he is a higher-ranked real military officer (and sinister Marcus Scarman in the classic Doctor Who story THE PYRAMIDS OF FEAR).
The film captures all the characters' foibles and catchphrases from the original series with a nice sense of mocking not their admirable intentions but their charming naivete. ( e.g the anti-tank gun whose missiles home plummet back destructively to their source and the impractical molotov cocktails). These absurd shenanigans are balanced with a sincere appreciation of the patriotism and uncommon bravery from common men in those times. Director Norman Cohen again adds cinematic style to a lovely silhouetted shot of Mainwaring and Wilson on a hillside as the leader celebrates his beloved land with a touching oh-so British understatement. In the tense Mexican stand-off climax the Guard reveal real courage, Mainwaring threatening the Germans officer that "If you shoot me, there are seven men to take my place".
DAD'S ARMY works in the way that all sitcom spin-off movies should. It gives the fans what they love about the series with added depth that doesn't dilute or pad out the comedy. Eagle-eyed viewers may spot that Lowe is not present in the drill scenes of the unit marching through the countryside in their underwear . This was due to a contract clause protecting his dignity from being exposed sans trousers. However, the dignity of these home-made soldiers keen to defend their homeland is never forgotten amongst the laughs.