Harry Jones (Harry Secombe) is a shopkeeper's assistant in a quiet English village, but he dreams of adventure, patterned after his starring role in a local theatre production of "Bats of the Yard". In everyday life, however, he is stuck as a bumbling helper in a general store, falling over himself (literally) to serve the customers and more often than not scaring them away. Today there will be a selection of customers, two of whom are wicked secret agents, and one of whom will be the Professor (Michael Bentine) who they are trying to steal the formula from - so how does Harry fit into all this?
You'll note Mr Secombe was not playing Neddy Seagoon here, which was odd because essentially Down Among the Z Men was The Goon Show movie - or was it? The four original Goons were present and correct, but instead of leaving script duties to most celebrated writer Spike Milligan, Francis Charles and Milligan's then-co-scripter Jimmy Grafton stood in, doing a fair approximation of Milligan's humour, but "fair" was as good as it got here. Certainly dedicated fans of the radio series do not rate this at all highly, and see it as a waste of time except for completists.
But it's really not a total dead loss, as there are a few giggles: these were talented men after all, and if the particular flavour of freewheeling lunacy that the radio series presented was missing, then a few wacky quips or setpieces save it from utter oblivion. True, The Goons will always hold a vital place in comedy history as one of those genuine innovators where you hear it (or what remains of it) and think, yes, the landscape of humour changed there, yet that is not something you will feel watching this. Though where else will you get to see all the four of them in the one place?
Bentine left the team after a couple of series to plow his own furrow of ingeniously contrived humour, but it's Milligan that history remembers as the true innovator, however reasonable that may be. So how odd to see him pretty much in a supporting role here, not turning up for quite a while and when he does, going through familiar goofing routines as Private Eccles. Peter Sellers doesn't come across much better, as a more level-headed Major Bloodnok than he was on the radio, an old military buffer who helps the Professor to rediscover the formula.
Although before it has been rediscovered, there is a scene where the effects of the gas it creates take hold over our heroes, and as it is a mixture of tear gas and laughing gas then you can imagine how that turns out; again, not hilarious, but comfortably amusing. One nice bit has the five leads introduce themselves at the beginning by sticking their heads through a holes in a wall painted with the words "THE GOONS", then singing the theme song, such as it is: we should have more of that kind of thing. But really, anyone wanting classic comedy from this should stick with the series because Down Among The Z Men was strictly a quick cash-in of the kind British cinema knows all too well, and perhaps the weight of all this effort's talent is too much for hindsight to bear. Music by Jack Jordan.