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  Fast Lady, The Driving Ambition
Year: 1962
Director: Ken Annakin
Stars: James Robertson Justice, Leslie Phillips, Stanley Baxter, Kathleen Harrison, Julie Christie, Eric Barker, Oliver Johnston, Allan Cuthbertson, Esma Cannon, Dick Emery, Deryck Guyler, Victor Brooks, Terence Alexander, Danny Green, Michael Balfour
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Murdoch Troon (Stanley Baxter) is a keen, Scottish cyclist in England where he has a job with the council, which comes in handy one day when he is out with this cycling club and a road hog drives up behind him and knocks him off his bike. Fortunately for him, he has taken the registration number of the car, and manages to track the driver down to a posh country house a few miles away. He turns out to be Commander Charles Chingford (James Robertson Justice), a grumpy old ex-military man who crunches Murdoch's bike under his lawnmower - accidentally. This does not improve his mood and he goes inside to call his lawyer, leaving Murdoch outside with his daughter...

And that daughter was played by Julie Christie, who had already co-starred with Baxter in her film debut the year before, but was at that time best known to British audiences for her television role in sci-fi serial A for Andromeda. She was obviously headed for bigger things, which was probably why she didn't appear in this film's sequel, but in the meantime, The Fast Lady was very satisfying to be getting on with, and still is today. Christie didn't play the title role, as that belonged to a vintage Bentley which Murdoch's fellow lodger Freddie Fox (Leslie Phillips at full strength) is trying to sell, he being a car salesman.

All the vehicles that the characters drive say something about their personality, so the thrifty Murdoch gets by on his bicycle, Freddie zooms about in various sports cars, usually with a lovely lady by his side, and Chingford has a Roller to cruise around in as if he owned the place; daughter Claire nips about in a Mini Cooper, very chic for the era but what she really wants is for daddy to pay for her own sporty model. It's when Murdoch attempts to upgrade his transport to the Bentley, essentially getting ideas above his station, that the trouble begins, but by this stage he is in love with Claire and she with him, liking very much the idea of going out with a Scotsman - and somewhat ridiculously envisioning him in full Highland regalia when his Burns recital spirits her away.

This film is full to bursting with British comic talent (and Jamaican - Mark Heath shows up in a refreshingly non-stereotypical role as a crash-happy learner), with practically every part taken by a recognisable face, or recognisable if you've seen enough comedy from this country. Among those hoving into view, at points for mere seconds, are Bernard Cribbins on a stretcher, Deryck Guyler in a gem of a scene as a tipsy police doctor, Eric Barker as a nervous driving instructor, Esma Cannon walloping several cast members over the head with her umbrella, and Clive Dunn in his typical old man role jumping out of a window. Not only that, but in Murdoch's dream of winning a Grand Prix, real life racers Graham Hill and John Surtees are there.

As far as plots go, The Fast Lady is not the most complicated, but it does what it sets out to do and provides the laughs. Of course, for certain viewers the most important thing that the film does is show off those cars, especially the title one, giving it a cult following that might not be the equal of Genevieve, but that's nothing to be ashamed of. After seeing Baxter divining humour from the, on the surface, unpromising character of Murdoch you might wish that he had pursued a movie career, but cinema's loss was television's gain, and he had a very successful run on the small screen, not to mention all those pantomime dames he portrayed in the theatre. He plays off Justice and Phillips like a pro, and as what the film most wanted to be was fun, you cannot argue that it wins you over in its goofy fashion. Maybe not an all-time comedy classic, but it has been cheering up viewers for decades now. Music by Norrie Paramor, very trad jazz.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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