Set in post-nuclear-holocaust England, where a handful of bizarre characters struggle on with their lives in the ruins, amongst endless heaps of ash, piles of broken crockery and brick, muddy plains, and heaps of dentures and old boots. Patriotically singing "God Save Mrs. Etheyl Shroake, Long Live Mrs. Etheyl Shroake", they wander through this surrealistic landscape, forever being warned by the police to "keep moving", and prone to the occasional mutation into a parrot, cupboard, or even, yes, a bed sitting room with "No Wogs" scrawled in the grime on it's windows.
In particular, this story revolves around the odd "love story" of a girl who lives with her parents in one compartment of a London Underground train, the commuter in the next compartment, and the doctor they meet after returning above ground in search of a nurse for the heavily pregnant girl.
Rita Tushingham ... Penelope
Ralph Richardson ... Lord Fortnum of Alamein
Peter Cook ... Inspector
Harry Secombe ... Shelter Man
Dudley Moore ... Sergeant
Spike Milligan ... Mate
Michael Hordern ... Bules Martin
Roy Kinnear ... Plastic mac man
Jimmy Edwards ... Nigel
Richard Warwick ... Allan
Arthur Lowe ... Father
Mona Washbourne ... Mother
Ronald Fraser ... The Army
Dandy Nichols ... Mrs Ethel Shroake
Frank Thornton ... The BBC
This is a visually stunning, funny, brilliant, and extravagantly weird film that should best be compared to El Topo, Barbarella, Playtime, and the Cremaster series. It's the kind of movie made with a big studio budget and free artistic reign; a combination that existed in other late 60s and early 70s bombs that have become cult classics.
Imagine if Monty Python did a lot of LSD, spent a million dollars on art direction, and then made a nuclear-apocalypse satire. Each shot is as sumptuous and symbolically rich as any Mathew Barney created - what with middle class Brits walking on a field of broken china, Underground escalators that end in mid-air, and Cathedrals submerged in water. Plot-wise, this is as free-of-field as an experimental film. Whether you think it profoundly beautiful or profoundly ugly, the look is in the Quay brothers'/Dubuffet mold. Its narrative loosely strings together amazing images, costumes, and poignant, often hilarious scenes of British society desperately trying to hold on to any remaining shards of civilization. The Bed Sitting Room is full of sarcastic comments and profound notions. It is not full of plot - it's amazing without it.
If there is any chance to see this movie on screen, take it. Any frame is worth the price of admission.
Pilloried in the decade that was His Time, Richard Lester had radishes thrown at him for being "modish," gimmicky, aggressively hip. (The great Manny Farber was uncharacteristically cruel, cruel.) He may seem in some lights like the Austin Powers of auteurs, but time has been kind both to his formal gifts (as magnificent as Nicolas Roeg's--or David Fincher's) and to the complicated, unsentimental, but hard-beating heart at the center of his movies. At least one Lester work, 1968's PETULIA, ranks among the greatest movies ever made. This little-seen classic, a sort of British-seaside ENDGAME, gets my vote as the most thrillingly beautiful end-of-the-world movie ever.
Coauthored by the "Goon Show" genius Spike Milligan, this post-apocalypse omnibus of sketches suggests John Osborne's Archie Rice rewriting an absurdist play by Gombrowicz. Tweedy lord Ralph Richardson post-atomically mutates into a bed sitting room while sixtyish, uncombed Michael Hordern uses the state of general unrest to get into bed with Rita Tushingham. (Her pregnancy arouses Hordern--until she gives birth, after seventeen months, to what is either a bird or a large pile of felt.) And above it all, Peter Cook flies on a hot-air balloon as a sexy cockney sadist--the post-nuclear Prime Minister to be, the first-draft choice of the Clockwork Orange Party.
A plot summary does no justice to Lester's and the DP David Watkin's images, which challenge the Vesuvian frescos of FELLINI SATYRICON for sheer overwhelmage. And the work of Lester's longtime composer Kenneth Thorne, with its English merriment never once acknowledging its own irony, ranks with the tip-top achievements of Rota or Morricone. This is a beautiful, haunting, great, sadly completely forgotten movie. Film hipsters have had their day lapping up Lucio Fulci and Jess Franco. Bring back a guy who once had a real job! Up with Lester!
With it's completely surreal narrative and winning photography, The bed Sitting room hits me now for a number of reasons, the first of which, is that despite looking strangely contemporary, all it's main leads (Except the young uns) are dead. Marty Feldman, Micheal Horden, Arthur Lowe, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Harry Secombe, Spike Milligan and Sir Ralph, are all pushing up the daisies. There's something tragic about the cast in a comedy all being dead. For all intense and purposes, the film may as well be dead too as it was blind luck that I caught it. It is criminal that this bona fide classic never really made it past the main gates, while lesser films took the glory.
Made by Richard lester (A hard Days Night, Superman 2 & 3) in 1969, just before Monty Python hit pay dirt, it tells the story of Brits after the bomb, working class through to upper, it encapsulates the British eccentricities perfectly. It's pomposity and its sheer blooded bloody optimism. These characters, you might see on the tube on the way to work and despite furniture mutation and hunger, they're just the same. It's a testament to all concerned, that a potentially silly premise, is performed with total conviction and a little tragedy. It's especially weird to see Sir Ralph Richardson and Sir Micheal Horden as leads. In such a bizarre film, it swings the whole experience into brain frying proportions. It'd be like having Sir Ben Kingsley play Ace Ventura, Pet detective.
Another reason, this film is a triumph, is the superb set design and photography. While in Monty Python, it's surrealistic landscapes, while funny and inventive, never really touches the views on offer here, What was essentially a quarry, is now landmarks of Britain, with bits of it sticking out all over the place. stacks of shoes, dismembered traffic jams and indeed Bed sitting rooms clog up the toxic horizon, all glum and desolate, you half believe the story, as the landscape seems sort of real. I'll bet my mums dog that Python was influenced by the designs on display here. As the film was based on a play (By Spike Milligan and John Antrobus) I wonder how it looked in a theatre.
There you have it, a classic film in every way if you like that sort of thing. If you catch it, you'll wonder if you saw it, then you'll be angry that you've never heard of it, after that you'll never forget it, it's just a shame you'll probably never get to see it...