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  Love Thy Neighbour Race Relations
Year: 1973
Director: John Robins
Stars: Jack Smethurst, Rudolph Walker, Kate Williams, Nina Baden-Semper, Bill Fraser, Charles Hyatt, Patricia Hayes, Keith Marsh, Tommy Godfrey, Melvyn Hayes, Azad Ali, Arthur English, Andrea Lawrence, Bill Pertwee, James Beck
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: Eddie Booth (Jack Smethurst) has problems living next door to his neighbour Bill Reynolds (Rudolph Walker), mainly because Bill is black and white Eddie has a low opinion of his race. The feeling is mutual as far as Bill is concerned, and the two men have a long running feud with each other, firing off racial insults at every opportunity even though their long suffering wives, Joan (Kate Williams) and Barbie (Nina Baden-Semper) are on friendly terms and Eddie and Bill work at the same engineering plant. Today Bill's father (Charles Hyatt) is visiting from Trinidad, but is left waiting at the airport while Bill and Eddie continue their arguments, and Eddie's mother (Patricia Hayes) arrives from Manchester to see her son, much to the annoyance of Joan.

Love Thy Neighbour was a popular sitcom of the early 1970s and as such a big screen version, scripted by TV writers Harry Driver and Vince Powell, was hurriedly brought out after its initial success as was the manner of the British film industry of the time. The film was a Hammer production, but the original series was often held up as an example of the depths that seventies television sank to although Walker defended it by pointing out that he was one of the only black actors in the UK at the time in a much-seen leading role, which was fair enough. Unfortunately the comedy, as can be experienced here, mostly came down to Eddie's ignorant comments and insults, and that's what you remember, not the way that Bill always manages to get the upper hand.

What with slagging each other off continuously - "Bloody black troublemaker!" "Racialist poof!" - the two main characters become very wearing, especially with Eddie's self righteous tones and Bill's non-stop aggression (although you can sympathise with Bill's reactions). It's difficult to see how the film could further the cause of race relations other than getting the abuse right out in the open, but it's a thin subject for comedy, or at least it is here - it's no Blazing Saddles. You never knew there were so many puns on the word "black", but watching this, even friendly characters get drawn into the conflict. It starts out with Bill responding to Eddie's jibes by playing practical jokes on him like painting his face black while he sleeps or pouring a pint of beer over his head, but soon escalates.

Eddie is a dyed in the wool Labour supporter, while Bill is a Tory voter, as if they didn't have enough to fight about. It wouldn't be the seventies in Britain without a good strike, and that's what happens when Bill refuses to join the engineers' union and persuades his fellow black workers to do the same, leading to the white workers, headed by Eddie of course, to walk out and demand that they re-join. So a battle of wits ensues, with the black workers fooling the whites into letting them into the factory day after day. A scene where the black workers get their revenge on Eddie one night must be seen to be believed. While all this is going on, Eddie's mother and Bill's father are growing friendlier by the minute, setting off on trips around London together as if to show that it's not all bad.

Joan and Barbie have entered a good neighbour contest by lying through their teeth about their husbands' friendliness, and wouldn't it be hilarious if they won? Not really. There are about four storylines happening at once here, none of which really take off, but it transpires by the end that Eddie and Bill have more in common than they would be prepared to admit; they both have similar relationships with their wives for a start, as can be witnessed when they both deceive them to attend a stripper's evening at the local working men's club. In many ways, Love Thy Neighbour looks strange now, a relic of another era, and would probably only appeal to those who believe a black face appearing on television these days is an example of political correctness gone mad. That's not the strangest thing, however: could you accept Melvyn Hayes as a ladies man? Music by Albert Elms.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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