Tuesday, 3 November 2015

NO. 90 - Peter Sellers - SOFT BEDS, HARD BATTLES (1974)


Released in 1974, this WWII comedy is notable only as a vehicle for the highest number of Peter Sellers roles in one film.  He plays six altogether, spanning most of the Allied and Axis powers: the English, French, German and Japanese and does so extremely well. It’s the canvas sadly that is not worth such priceless painting.

Set in occupied Paris, SOFT BEDS, HARD BATTLES is about the efforts by the British along with the French Resistance to reclaim Paris and sabotage the Nazi occupiers, recruiting the prostitutes and Madame of a Parisian brothel to help them bamboozle and despatch the officers - using for example a tip-up bed that dumps the Nazi ‘customer’ down a shaft to their death.

There is precious little amusement to be had, so other than playing ‘Spot the TV face’, you’re relying on Sellers’ gallery of detailed characters for entertainment. Among the hookers we have Jenny Hanley, Rula Lenska and Francoise Pascal. Also inadvertently notable in the harem is black actress Hylette Adolphe since her anachronistic afro makes her seem as though she’s mistaken this for a Blaxploitation flick. There’s also a brief appearance by Windsor Davies, intriguingly channelling a Frenchman rather than his richly distinctive Welsh tones. Fans of classic DOCTOR WHO will recognise a micro-cameo by UNIT’s Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtenay) as a top drawer French officer, as well as a decent role for Vernon Dobtcheff, the Chief Scientist from ‘The War Games’ adventure and veteran of many distinguished films.

This then leaves us with the curiosity value of the sextet of Sellers performances, almost as many as Alec Guiness plays in KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS. On the Allies side, we have his Major Robinson, a genial British officer with a relaxed manner of assassinating his targets; the dotty General Latour, and a randy De Gaulle-like President of France who ultimately becomes very personally involved in thanking the line-up of ladies at the end of the film. Representing most of the Axis nations, Sellers gives a brief sketch of Herr Hitler, a sizeable part as clinical Eichmann-esque Herr Schroeder of the Gestapo and a startlingly well made-up Prince Kyoto. So subtle is the Japanese make-up that it took three shots for me to be sure it was Sellers playing him. He also creditably rattles off Japanese phrases and with cadences different enough not to be too reminiscent of his Chinese detective Sidney Wang in 1976’s MURDER BY DEATH.

Fans of BBC’s ‘ALLO ‘ALLO may enjoy SOFT BEDS, HARD BATTLES but I found it uninvolving and it mistakes bawdiness for actual humour. The one gag I did appreciate is when Schroeder’s henchman comments on the difference between his boss’s civilian role in taxation and the Gestapo. “Not the way I do it” Schroeder replies. Too often, the innuendo is heavy-handed and layered over by an unnecessary and irritating ‘American’ narrator (the usually welcome John Bluthal I’m guessing?), who begins by referencing Richard Nixon (drawing parallels between the reporting of WWII historical truth and Watergate) and then regularly interjects forced pointless links.

The poster described the film as featuring ‘Six Best Sellers’. Whilst I wouldn’t argue with that, the rest of the movie is a remainder item to be discounted…

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