Bert Rigby (Robert Lindsay) sits in a bar drowning his sorrows, but finds someone to unburden himself to when the man sitting next to him greets him, and Bert buys him a drink of his favourite tipple. He then begins the story of his life and what brought him to Hollywood from his Northern English homeland, where he worked as a miner at the local colliery, always entertaining his fellow miners with his song and dance routines, even when he was naked in the communal shower. His girlfriend Laurel Pennington (Cathryn Bradshaw) lived next door to him, where she ran a pub, and they would meet in the shared air raid shelter to have sex with each other as their mothers disapproved. But then a talent show came to town...
There's no doubt Robert Lindsay is a talented man, and on stage he had wowed audiences on both sides of the Atlantic with his starring role in musical Me and My Girl, which was how he ended up in the curious position, as far as his fellow Brits were concerned, of leading a Hollywood movie. This was supposed to be semi-autobiographical and the writer and director Carl Reiner stuck fairly faithfully to Lindsay's life story while adding embellishments that were intended to be charming. The trouble with that was how resistible audiences of 1989 found the prospect, as a tribute to the classic musicals was not exactly what they were lining up to see back then; the results resembled a Morecambe and Wise sketch with ideas seriously above its station.
Except, of course, Morecambe and Wise might have made this funny, and Reiner bafflingly showed a tin ear for both the music and the laughter. This was the man who had started the eighties making some of the funniest movies of the decade with Steve Martin, and yet here he was squandering all that goodwill on a project that did not suit his style one jot, apparently dazzled by the possibilities Lindsay presented to him, but not able to turn those into cinematic gold. Indeed, you would have to be insanely charitable or easily pleased to regard this as anything but a disaster; it was certainly one at the box office, but artistically it came across as weirdly amateurish, resembling a first draft spec script rather than a polished professional product.
There were certainly talented performers appearing in it, but what Reiner had them doing was frequently embarrassing, even not taking Lindsay into account. It was filled with crass jokes and language that belied the supposed tribute to old time entertainment it was offering, unsure in its lack of confidence in those classic song and dance men it continually claimed to be lauding: there was a heartfelt dedication to Gene Kelly at the end that only had you thinking Fred Astaire had dodged a bullet by expiring two years before this was released. It was not even sure if it wanted to be a musical, as setpieces such as Bert re-enacting Singin' in the Rain were the exception, as most of the numbers were muffled by "realistic" staging, aside from one where the protagonist danced with his pregnant girlfriend (Bradshaw soon to be taking Charlotte Coleman's virginity in TV's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit).
Robbie Coltrane turned up as the talent show agent who set Bert on his path to stardom, but the character was so obnoxious that every scene to feature him was extremely offputting, professional granny Liz Smith was cursed with a terrible gold wig, Anne Bancroft put images in our mind we would rather do without as her rich producer's wife character made moves to bed Bert, acting as if she were an ingenue rather than someone approaching pensionable age, Bruno Kirby was introduced directing a historical scene that is revealed as a condom commercial in a typical example of the laboured sense of humour prevalent here... and so on, a bunch of talented people all at sea because nothing here gave them the chance to shine, or even perform to an adequate or appropriate level. Bert suffers such bad luck that it's difficult to view his tale as anything but hard luck, and the fact that he returns triumphantly to his hometown with nothing but a non-alcoholic beer advert to his name may not be your idea of a success, never mind a happy ending. This was one of those productions that got so much wrong it was a wonder it was released at all; Lindsay would bounce back on television with the classic G.B.H., and Bert would be a footnote, remembered with a cringe, probably. Music by Ralph Burns.
American actor, writer and director, a comedy specialist. He got his break writing for Sid Caesar's television show in the 1950s, then created the Dick Van Dyke Show in the 1960s. He moved into film with the autobiographical Enter Laughing, followed by the more serious The Comic and the controversial Where's Poppa?
In the 1970s he scored a hit with Oh God!, and then directed a string of fine quality Steve Martin vehicles: The Jerk, The Man with Two Brains, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid and All of Me. He continued to direct into the nineties, and had a good role in the Ocean's Eleven remake. Father of Rob Reiner.