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  Privates on Parade It Ain't Half Hot, Mum
Year: 1982
Director: Michael Blakemore
Stars: John Cleese, Denis Quilley, Michael Elphick, Nicola Pagett, Joe Melia, Patrick Pearson, Simon Jones, David Bamber, Bruce Payne, John Standing, Neil Pearson, John Quayle, David Griffin, Steve Dixon, Jasper Jacob, Vincent Wong, Philip Tan, Julian Sands
Genre: Musical, Comedy, Drama, WarBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Singapore in 1948, and although the Second World War is over, British troops are still needed in the Far East due to the threat of Communism. National Service provides many of them, as it has with Steven Flowers (Patrick Pearson) who arrives at an army base looking to take up his post. He meets Sergeant Major Drummond (Michael Elphick) who tells him not to stand on ceremony and call him by his first name, Reg, as that is what they do around here. Here being the centre of operations for the area's entertainment division, which Steven has signed up for...

There's no doubting the talent of playwright Peter Nichols, as such theatrical hits as A Day in the Death of Joe Egg and The National Health proved, but when it came to translating material to the big screen, many of those who wrote for the stage found there was not a decent match. Nichols had been lucky with the adaptations of his work, which although not widely seen retained much of the power of the originals, yet with Privates on Parade the consensus was that this time it was a bumpy ride as far as the tone went. Especially as that tone veered recklessly between cheeky comedy, very well played by all concerned, and more serious matters which included bloody violence near the end.

Those performances could not have been better, and it is the cast of familiar faces, if not a star-studded lineup, who hold this together. John Cleese is ideal as the oblivious Major Flack who cannot understand the theatrical ways of the troupe, known as S.A.D.U.S.E.A., or Song And Dance Unit South East Asia. However, what he does know is the army, and it is he who leads them in to eventual danger in the Malayan jungle thanks to the machinations of the extremely dodgy Reg, who it is no secret to reveal is running guns for the Communists. Steven is an innocent in all this, unaware that Reg is setting him up with his girlfriend Sylvia (Nicola Pagett) because she is pregnant and he does not wish to take the responsibility for the baby.

If anyone comes close to stealing the show, both in the concert halls and in the film itself, it is Dennis Quilley as Captain Terri Dennis, an unabashedly camp personality who calls everyone by a girl's name and lets no double entendre go unturned. His wit is the source of much of the humour, as this is by no means all funny, and a welcome presence when the overriding mood of the film begins to take over and quieten the laughter. That mood is a bleakness which not only sees the British authorities as fighting a losing battle to keep their Empire, but the characters trying to keep their heads above water by clinging onto the certainties that they thought were immovable.

Therefore on one hand Flack is sure that keeping his faith in God and the King will mean that everyone in Asia will follow suit, and that includes the insurgents, and on another the likes of Steven and Sergeant Eric Young-Love (Simon Jones, forever Arthur Dent for many) having their dreams of love dashed when cruel reality breaks down their hopes. This is a musical as well, so the story is punctuated with scenes from the troupe's stage shows, including Quilley doing his best Marlene Dietrich or Carmen Miranda and various jolly but cash-strapped production numbers to contrast with the increasing gloom. Perhaps in the theatre such crunching gear changes were more successful, but Privates on Parade, while worth seeing for the professionalism it displayed, is just too unsteady on its feet with all the awkward juxtapositions between misery and chuckles. Music by Denis King.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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