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.

Venus 2006 ***

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Peter O’Toole enjoyed something of a late career renaissance; his brief appearance in films like Troy added a touch of class. With Roger Michell directing from a script by Hanif Kureishi, O’Toole did some of his best work with Leslie Finlay as Maurice and Ian, two aging actors who find their fading zest for life re-invigorated when Jessie (Jodie Whittaker) comes to stay in London; Maurice has a strong interest in the girl, not least because of her nude modelling, but their friendship transcends the sexual; Venus is a superb film about how culture can be a transformative force in the role of young and old alike, and O’Toole and Whittaker rise to the challenge in tandem, despite being at the opposite ends of their respective careers.

Is Anybody There ? 2008 ***

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A welcome starring role for Michael Caine, Is Anybody There? sounds a bit gloomy on paper; young boy Edward (Bill Milner) lives in the retirement home his parents run, and his life takes an abrupt turn when he falls under the spell of Clarence (Caine), a retired magician. Anne Marie Duff and David Morrisey are his parents, and there’s a full complement of British talent as the inhabitants of the home, including Rosemary Harris, Sylvia Syms and Leslie Phillips, with Peter Vaughan contributing a notable scene as the victim of a guillotine trick which goes horribly wrong. Caine gives a prickly performance as Clarence, and John Crowley’s film never overdoes the sentiment; Is Anybody There? is a rather quaintly old-fashioned coming-of-age story handled in a very British way.