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  Strange Case of the End of Civilisation as We Know It, The Holmes Improvement
Year: 1977
Director: Joseph McGrath
Stars: John Cleese, Arthur Lowe, Stratford Johns, Connie Booth, Ron Moody, Holly Palance, Joss Ackland, Denholm Elliott, Gyearbour Asante, Nick Tate, Burt Kwouk, Derek Griffiths, Val Pringle, Bill Mitchell, Christopher Malcolm, Josephine Tewson, Kenneth Benda
Genre: Comedy, TV MovieBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The world is in crisis and it's all because of an incident in the Middle East where American diplomat Dr Henry Gropinger (Ron Moody) was on a flight there on a mission of peace, but on the plane found that his diary had been pilfered and he did not know where he was heading. Once they landed he thought he was in Israel and announced "Shalom", leading him to be shot dead by the Arabs. Then the message arrives from the mysterious Moriarty: this heralds the end of civilisation as we know it...

This was a television comedy film made by John Cleese between stints in Fawlty Towers, except he didn't make it for the BBC, he went to the other side and offered it to ITV. This was really the brainchild of seasoned Brit comedy creator Joseph McGrath and Jack Hobbs, and as you may have guessed from the name of the villain, conducted its business as that old standby, the Sherlock Holmes spoof, with Cleese in the role of the famed sleuth. Only he wasn't really, as what he was playing was a descendant of the detective.

You can tell that by the fact this was set in 1975, even though it was broadcast in 1977, presuming that if civilisation had ended then the audience would know about it by then. The skits before Cleese showed up were pretty obvious stuff, making fun of various foreigners in the British manner, but once he appeared the tone brightened considerably, assisted by a neat double act with his Dr Watson, Arthur Lowe. Bits of comic insanity included Watson actually being bionic, complete with Six Million Dollar Man sound effects, although as we discover that will only take a hero so far.

Stratford Johns played the man from Scotland Yard - complete with caption announcing him as such - who visits Holmes and after a scuffle where the investigator thinks that he is an intruder and tries to incapacitate him (failing) the facts of the case can be laid out. If for a good portion of the running time you might be thinking this is exhibiting an all-too-typical seventies desperation to secure laughs, and actually isn't doing that too well, then you're rewarded with an unexpectedly decent item of ludicrousness that does tickle the funny bone.

So if the very much of its era racial humour makes you cringe, you can delight in some amusing performances, especially those of Cleese and Lowe, who are both pretty daft, although at least Holmes is more aware of it than his loyal partner. Highlights included the scene where Moriarty's dark forces manage to assassinate almost every one of the world's top policemen gathered to sort out the problem before the ultimatum arrives, and a great skit where Holmes tries to work out which of two Watsons is the evil double, plus the cast was good quality for this type of thing. If only it had been more consistent and more reliant on wit than simply having the actors bump into objects or fall over; that kind of silliness can wear out its welcome fairly quickly if the invention is not there to back it up. Overall, though, this was an obscurity worth investigating for Brit comedy fans. Music by Ivor Slaney.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Joseph McGrath  (1930 - )

Scottish director of film and TV comedy who debuted as one of four directors on the chaotic James Bond spoof Casino Royale. The Terry Southern-penned Magic Christian was a bizarre comedy whose cast included Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, while 1973's Digby, The Biggest Dog in the World is a much-loved kids favourite. McGrath also helmed The Great McGonagall, another oddball Milligan comedy, and big screen version of Rising Damp.

 
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