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  Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs Either With Us Or Against Us
Year: 1974
Director: Stuart Cooper
Stars: John Hurt, John McEnery, Raymond Platt, Rosalind Ayres, David Warner
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Malcolm Scrawdyke (John Hurt) is lying in bed, pondering the exact moment which compels someone - and himself in particular - to get up and seize the day. He tries bracing himself to rise, but nothing happens until his second or third attempt, though when he is up he knows precisely how he will spend the day, or what's left of it. He is an art student, or he has been for the past five years, but is now threatened with expulsion from the college for failing to do very much there, a state of affairs he does not blame himself for but one of the tutors. How can he have his revenge?

How about starting a political party of fascists? Not the most obvious course of action to many people, but Little Malcolm was not your obvious kind of film. It was an adaptation of David Halliwell's sixties theatrical play, dealing with the attitudes to fascism and how one man's target for lampoonery can be another man's corrosive and dangerous ideology. Not that it would have you rolling around on the floor, as what humour there was turned out rather bitter and awkward, as was fitting its characters, but this was not as difficult a play as might have seemed on the surface.

Five years before Monty Python's Life of Brian, here was George Harrison flexing his cinematic muscles as producer and essentially financial backer to the production, presumably because the subject matter appealled to him, being fond of material out of the norm, even challenging to some extent, in his cinema. Thus while Little Malcolm was not exactly visually arresting, being shot mainly on some of the dingiest locations the filmmakers could have found with pokey bedsits and chilly wasteground its speciality (a fall of snow only adds to the bleakness of the imagery), it was more in its thoughts that it went for the confrontational.

The cast, it had to be said, were notably overage to be playing young art students, evidently hired for their thespian skills over their physical qualities, which paid off to an extent, as you quickly forget about their appearance and become intrigued by where the plot is going. Much of the first half is made up of the plans to kidnap and humiliate, perhaps even murder, the tutor who Malcolm feels affronted by, and resembles a more serious predecessor to groundbreaking eighties sitcom The Young Ones, complete with lightly surreal episodes and humour drawn from the clash of character, especially between Malcolm and hanger-on Nipple (David Warner) who remains sceptical but is too much of an oddball to want to hang around with anyone else.

During this half we get scenes of the four members of this would-be vital political force arseing about, but there's another character who is even more sceptical than Nipple, and she's the girl who initially wishes to be romantically involved with Malcolm until she sees through his supposedly charismatic, actually morally barren posturing. Ann (Rosalind Ayres) only really has two scenes of any great significance, but she both brings out the point that ideological bully boys can be both ridiculed and sneered at, but also can turn nasty, even violent, when they outnumber their more reasonable and lucid opponents. It's this dichotomy between making fun of the extreme right wing and recognising that it is not something to be entertained that creates the tension, and if there's no way the film version escapes its theatrical origins, it was a valuable record of a play that could have easily been forgotten - although the film wasn't exactly a blockbuster, far from it. Music by Stanley Myers.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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