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  Futtocks End A Very Big House In The Country
Year: 1970
Director: Bob Kellett
Stars: Michael Hordern, Ronnie Barker, Roger Livesey, Julian Orchard, Kika Markham, Mary Merrall, Hilary Pritchard, Peggy Ann Clifford, Richard O'Sullivan, Jennifer Cox, Suzanne Togni, Sammie Winmill, Barrie Gosney, Ernest C. Jennings, Kim Kee Lim, Aubrey Woods
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Futtocks End is a crumbling country pile where General Futtock (Ronnie Barker) and his staff live, including the lecherous butler (Michael Hordern) who of a morning likes to scare the postman (Aubrey Woods) by almost forcing him off the path to the front door with his motorcycle. Every day starts much like the last, as the maids deliver the breakfast, the General attends to his ablutions, and so on, though he would be advised not to peruse his missives in the shower since the ink tends to run. One message he can read, however, informs him his niece (Kika Markham) is coming over to stay for a couple of days with a few friends. That'll be nice.

Ronnie Barker truly made his name in the sphere of television comedy, where his aptitude with both comic acting in various popular sitcoms and his sketch show skills with Ronnie Corbett in the long-running variety show The Two Ronnies earned him millions of fans and a status as one of the best in the business lasting to this day. He wasn't only a performer, as he liked to pen scripts (usually under a pseudonym) as well, often with his trademark brand of wordplay, which made his love of silent comedy perhaps surprising, but no less welcome. Around this time in British cinema there was a trend for putting on short films before the main feature, and they were at times humorous in nature.

Before television really got to grips with the concept and nudged these shorts off the cinema screens, a number of talents lent their presence to such works as The Plank (probably the best known of these), A Home of Their Own or Simon Simon, among others, and Barker appeared in a couple before deciding to write his own so Futtocks End was the result. Although a silent comedy, barely lasting fifty minutes, the soundtrack consisted of Robert Sharples' light, whimsical tunes and a selection of sound effects and appropriate noises made by the cast - no actual speech, however, which gave the piece its amusing texture. Well, that and a bunch of gags ranging from the surreal to the saucy seaside postcard in technique.

That meant in one scene a Van Gogh self-portrait falls from the wall and on landing on the floor the painting's hat has dropped over his eyes, or in another Hordern's ever-lascivious butler pinches the bottoms of the female characters, complete with sound effect, which sounds like something even Benny Hill would balk at until you watch the whole thing and see the payoff (more than one, in fact). If it wasn't the greatest of its type, it was nonetheless very well done, filmed at W.S. Gilbert's old home and demonstrating if there's one thing the British like to laugh at more than sex, it's class, and if you mix the two then the results are crowdpleasing, with all these toffs the butt of every joke.

Although shot on a low budget, Barker's script didn't need too many bells and whistles (other than those heard for comic effect), and the location offered up a nice bucolic mood even if they were not able to get a sunny day by the looks of it. Setpieces included a bottle of booze accidentally added to the fruit salad at dinner which makes the occasion go very well indeed as the assembled grow particularly merry, though they suffer for it the following morning when every sound is amplified - the Rice Krispies sound like gunfire (!), and an ingenious bit of business with a Labrador and a rock cake during high tea in the garden. If Barker, guided by producer Bob Kellett who took over directing duties, couldn't resist farce for too long, then it was daft enough not to be overbearing as the butler undoubtedly receives his comeuppance during the nighttime power cut. After this, Barker's attempts at much the same were relegated to television, their more natural home by the seventies, but Futtocks End was an engaging item of silliness no matter where you saw it.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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