OOH…YOU ARE AWFUL (1971)
Titles such as this film possesses are all too tempting to agree with waggishly when it comes to reviewing them. However, this lame film vehicle for Dick Emery deserves it. It’s a shame as Emery was a huge TV star of his own BBC sketch show between 1963-1981, and it’s easy to forget he pulled in up to 17 million viewers at its height for his versatile, double-entendre fuelled harmless bawdiness. As a child, I was very fond of his show, the drag-act, colourful and cheeky absurdity of his creations, similar in appeal and style to Benny Hill – with the added pleasure of his closing out-takes.
Somehow with the passing of time, Dick Emery has not been remembered with the same popularity as Hill or Morecambe and Wise for example. Granted, his material was much very much a broad traditional series of character turns, forged during military service in the Gang Show (which also produced Tony Hancock), but it’s only in recent years that modern comedians have cited him as an influence; Higson and Whitehouse, Mitchell and Webb and David Williams have all recognised and lovingly spoofed his work in their own shows.
OOH…YOU ARE AWFUL has a poor script that tries to shoehorn most of Emery’s gallery of characters into a semi-serious contrivance that alternates between showcasing them and attempting a crime story – resulting in an uneven tone, less than the sum of its parts. The first gag we see is an American tourist with a camera who stops to ask his sex-mad peroxide blonde directions, and soon regrets asking ‘her’ about her modelling potential for her partner: “I expect your boyfriend does you lots of times….in all kinds of positions.” Needless to say, she welcomes the double-meaning and with the famous titular line, pushes him over with full force.
The plot is built around Emery as an inveterate con-man who cannot resist fleecing people, even at his own risk. After an elaborate scheme staged within the Palace of Westminster where he and best pal Ronald Fraser scam a rich Italian car magnate and his son to the tune of £500,000 posing as marriage brokers on behalf of Princess Anne, instead of settling for this colossal score, he sells a dog he doesn’t own to an American couple at the airport. This results in a stretch behind bars, following which Lacey is killed by one of the two crime syndicates who come after them (both the Roman Mafia and a Welsh mob) before he can reveal the details of the Swiss bank account where their stash was deposited. Fortunately, Fraser had a penchant for tattoos, having a ‘skin directory’ inked on himself of all his conquests and also even more bizarrely spreading the bank details across the buttocks of each of four of his ladies.
Cue some low-frequency seaside postcard naughtiness as Emery channels more of his rogues gallery as disguises to enable him to contrive seeing or snapping each woman’s particulars. He adopts the toothsome vicar character but as a solicitor to ensnare his first victim. Then he becomes a cockney society wedding photographer to snap the bride compromisingly on her big day. Next up, he uses his crusty old grandad role - as a butler - to inveigle his way into the home of Liza Goddard. She is already in the process of being unwittingly conned by William ‘Schh-you-know-who’ Franklin whose fake Texan accent bounces around Australia like a kangaroo. I’ll be charitable and suggest he was being delibarately unconvincing, before Emery privately rumbles him and hey team up temporarily. The last TV character he ropes in is the same busty blonde at the beginning, this time to infiltrate a female policewomen’s training college, where he finds the final part of the account details on the bum of his PT instructor. It’s a shame there was no room for his amusingly dim denim-clad yob, but fans of Hettie, his horn-rimmed repressed old bird get a look-in when Emery needs to escape his house under surveillance to flee to Switzerland. His plan goes awry though when the Italians finally collar him, crate him up and dispatch him to la Cosa Nostra.
There’s an upbeat ending however. Tully convinces the Mafia that he is worth more in revenue to them alive, and sure enough our final sight of him is as a Cardinal at St Peter’s tricking another gullible American into a possible twenty million dollar donation.
With a funnier less functional script and an upbeat energetic tone, this could have worked – but there’s a leaden mood overhanging OOH…YOU ARE AWFUL. The comedy impersonations sit awkwardly in service of a serious plot. Never mind. Dick Emery was to have years more success in his native habitat in the TV sketch series before his death in 1982.