The military have devised a mission for five men to carry out, but as Britain is not at war with anybody the excursion takes a decidedly non-military form. The leader of this plan is Major Foskett (Terry-Thomas), who had been requested to conjure up an aptitude test to run as a contest between various regiments of the Army, including a man from the United States Air Force base in the area. It sounded like simplicity itself: pick up a collection of objects and return with them to the base of operations at eleven o'clock the following day. But how simple was it?
Obviously if it had been simple then the movie would have been over with in five minutes rather than the hundred it takes for the adventure to play out, and would have been a lot less enjoyable to boot. The director here was Michael Winner, who also came up with the story, and in his later years he garnered a fairly poor reputation for his increasingly tawdry movies and his tendency to act as something of a rentaquote on the subject of showbiz, all of which unfortunately blinded many to the fact that there was a time when he could make some very entertaining movies. That time being the sixties more often than not, but it was still unfair to write off his whole career.
You Must Be Joking! was one of his comedies, taking the form of a scavenger hunt of the sort often attracting filmmakers wanting a basic outline to hang a bunch of jokes on, though not one which often caught on with the public, curiously enough. More often such efforts would rate a cult status, as was the case with this among those who caught it on its rare television showings, and in this instance it won a further glamour when samples of its dialogue were dropped into the late nineties one hit wonder Cognoscenti vs Intelligensia by The Cuban Boys (you know, the Hamster Dance thing). Or it would have done if anyone had been familiar enough with it to recognise them; sounded fun, though.
And that's because it was fun, highly entertaining all the way with all the celebs Winner could muster appearing before his camera, seriously, not five minutes went by without the viewer prompted to say, "Oh, it's whatsisface! You know, that guy from that movie!" The fact that they all knew what was expected of them, show up and be funny basically, worked strongly in the comic atmosphere's favour, but for many this was Lionel Jeffries' film as he stole the show with this Scottish sergeant-major MacGregor, ostensibly the villain of the piece except he's so entertaining you wouldn't mind him succeeding in capturing all the objects and passing the finishing post first.
The actual leading man was American import Michael Callan, a song and dance exponent best known for his more serious roles on film until efforts such as these turned around his career and he ended up in light comedy on television. He had a certain charm, slightly smug but winning with it, therefore ideal for this which amounted to that most sixties of diversions, the caper movie. The objects the five men have to secure are naturally of an obscure variety, all the better to send them careering across London to get some plaster flying ducks or the emblem from a Rolls-Royce, with an especially tricky example for the piece de resistance. Quite often more ridiculous than anything else, star spotters would have a ball with this, with a host of laugh out loud lines and situations, but there was one drawback which left questions by the end: specifically, were we supposed to still like Callan's character in light of how he treated his loyal girlfriend (Gabriella Licudi) after all that? Set this aside, which was difficult, and you had excellent value for a Swinging London comedy. Music by Laurie Johnson.