The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins 1971 ***

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British comedy is well represented in Graham Stark’s debut film as director, a portmanteau of comedy sketches which fuse the old-school comedy of the early sixties with the surreal edge of the late sixties; it’s not exactly consistent, but it is interesting because of the talent involved. Original Goons Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe are here, although working separately, Monty Python’s Graham Chapman contributes two sketches, but with Barry Cryer as his writing partner rather than John Cleese, and there’s three Bond girls to add glamour. Add cod-Python animated inserts, plus a role call of comedy names from Bruce Forsyth to Leslie Phillips, and you’ve got an interesting evening viewing, even if there’s precious few actual laughs.

Starting with the good stuff, Spike Milligan’s brand of humour did not translate to the big screen in the way that fellow Goon Peter Sellers did; The Great McGonagall, Puckoon and The Bed Sitting Room are all hard going and for completists only. But his short on the subject of Sloth is pretty good, and has the crazy energy of his written successes; it’s really just a series of silent jokes, with director Graham Stark in a bathtub, lots of discussion of walnuts, and a genuine anarchic tone. It’s worth seeking out, even if the rest of the sins leave you cold.

Elsewhere, there’s Harry Secombe in blackface, which is something of a low-point in a silly story about house Envy, while for Lust, Harry H Corbett does a strange melancholy routine about trying to chat up ‘dolly birds’ in subway stations; Marty Feldman is a credited writer here. And say what you want about Bruce Forsyth’s efforts to rescue a 50p coin from a drain in the Avarice sketch, it’s a sketch that sticks in your mind despite being, well, not particularly funny.

With Bob Guccione, Roy Hudd, Ronnie Barker, June Whitfield, Julie Ege, Ian Carmichael, Alfie Bass, Bill Pertwee and more making appearances, The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins should have been a comedy monument; instead, it’s an oddity, but one that’s fun in terms of spotting cameos and reflecting on a way of life in 1971 that seems like a long time ago; the 5p Subway-ticket vending machines and the tiny packets of crisps may interest future cultural anthropologists.

Svengali 1954 ***

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Yet another baffling and yet still welcome random choice from Amazon Prime, the 1954 version of Svengali arrives in a print processed in the Awful-o-vision labs, with characters and set-dressing glowing and fading mid-scene and a pervasive air of murk that’s appropriate for the subject matter of male dominance. If you’ve heard men described as Svengalis, then we’re talking about control freaks, but the Svengali features here is even freakier than that. Played by Donald Wolfit, Svengali looks like Bela Lugosi playing Fu Manchu as Genghis Khan, and his every appearance provokes mirth. Wolfit’s protrayal of Svengali feels incredibly racist, although it’s not clear which particular race should be offended. An artist of some kind, he stalks the demi-monde of turn of the 19th century Paris, with acolytes including such richly Gallic actors as Michael Craig, Harry Secombe and Are You Being Served?’s Alfie Bass. The object of Svengali’s desire is Hildegard Knef, who plays an artist’s model from Ireland, going by the splendid name Trilby O’Farrell. As often as Trilby disrobes in private, Svengali loves to tickle the ivories in public, and clears crowded night-clubs by performing the death match; his plan is to hypnotise poor Trilby and convince her she’s a world-class singer. Given Wolfit’s bizarre antics, it’s hard to see what Trilby sees in him as he mumbles about ‘the music of the spheres’ and offers such romantic blandishments as ‘Sing, you clumsy oaf!”.  It’s a shame Amazon couldn’t find a better print that this, with all kinds of marks and splatter not helping a pretty dank looking film, but the eccentric performance of Wolfit gives Svengali all the fascination of a ten car pile-up; notorious as one of Britain’s most famously self-absorbed actors, Wolfit’s huge, unhinged performance was probably visible from space, and his gleeful, scenery-chewing antics genuinely have to be seen to be believed.