Lurk (Frankie Howerd) is descended from a long line of cowards, and now it is 1914, he works as an underfootman and general dogsbody for a rich London family. The head butler is Mr. Groping (Bill Fraser), who is always trying to get his hands on the maid, Fanny (Madeline Smith), but he won't succeed if Lurk has anything to do with it. Everyone is talking about war being on the horizon, but Lurk doesn't believe a word of it - at least until the Great War actually breaks out. "Anyone can make a mistake," says Lurk, but is reluctant to join up to fight the Germans, shaming him in the eyes of Fanny. However, all that changes when he attends a hypnotism show...
Up the Front was the third in the short series of films based on the popular television comedy, Up Pompeii, after the straight adaptation and the medieval Up the Chastity Belt. Regular writer Sid Colin was joined by Eddie Braben, best known for his work with Morecambe and Wise on television, and it's true this film resembles an overextended sketch from the small screen transplanted onto the big screen. And the studio bound appearance does nothing to dispel that impression. Although set in the First World War, rest assured we see no one dying, as this a fairly basic farce enlivened by the presence of Howerd and his inimitable personality.
It's also brightened up by the array of British comedy talent, and you'll spot many familiar faces. The first guest star is the esteemed Stanley Holloway, playing the tipsy hypnotist who mesmerises Lurk into believing he must save England - they certainly get their money's worth out of Holloway's five minutes of screen time, because thereafter his disembodied voice is heard intoning, "You must save England!" about ten times to remind Lurk of his duty. After this episode, Lurk joins up as a private and is sent to the Front in France, where he is dismayed to discover his sergeant is none other than Groping.
The comedy constantly threatens to turn seedy, so weighed down is it with double entendres. "Seeing you reminds me of Fanny," Groping tells Lurk; "Doesn't everything?" he replies - maybe that's more of a single entendre. But it's not only the verbal humour that is laboured, the comic set ups are too: witness the contortions of plot which see Lurk looking for the medical unit but unwittingly entering the local whorehouse, and then ending up in the same room as a randy Groping. However that's nothing compared to the way that our hero makes himself indispensable to the war effort, or circumstances conspire to make him so.
Fortunately, as creaky as all this is, it is buoyed by the presence of Howerd, turning this into the equivalent of a music hall revue, including the odd song supplied by a cheery Dora Bryan. When the hapless Lurk has the plans to a German military invasion tattooed on his arse, Howerd's flair carries it off, with his long-suffering "I can't believe I'm involved in this tacky charade" attitude. The guest stars reach their peak with a name from Hollywood, yes, Zsa Zsa Gabor appears as Mata Hari, adding a touch of the absurd along with some much needed glamour. The action draws to a close with Lurk being chased around by German spies led by Lance Percival, and British soldiers, with our protagonist disguised a tree (don't ask). In its defence, you must admit the makers of Up the Front kept up the standard of the earlier entries in this series, and it provides a number of easy chuckles thanks to Howerd's delivery. Music by Peter Greenwell.