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The British Film Institute launches BFI Player Classics

Featured: The Lavender Hill Mob, The Three Musketeers, Love and Death on Long Island

The Lavender Hill Mob are Stanley Holloway, Alec Guinness, Alfie Bass, and Sidney James.
The Lavender Hill Mob are Stanley Holloway, Alec Guinness, Alfie Bass, and Sidney James.

The British Film Institute launches BFI Player Classics on May 14. The new streaming outlet promises what it calls a “collection of classic British cinema specifically for the American market.” (I’m guessing that means no subtitles.) What follows is a trio of comedies guaranteed to delight. For more information on the subscription service, visit: https://www.bfi.org.uk/

The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)

Virtuous to a fault and 100% lacking in initiative in the eyes of his superiors, bank clerk Holland (Alec Guinness, eyes gleaming, chin tucked in chest) is the perfect employee. But don’t let his “fusby” comportment fool you. It’s an act, one that Holland has spent 20 years on the job refining. He oversees a weekly delivery of gold bullion, and after all that time, our inconspicuous wage earner has at last hit upon a plan to stick it to the man. A neighboring souvenir salesman (Stanley Holloway) provides the incentive for an airtight caper involving the melting of gold bars into miniature Eiffel Towers, six of which misguidedly wind up in the possession of a class of day-tripping schoolgirls. (Alfie Bass and Sidney James round out the mob.) What begins with a low-tech robbery gradually builds steam, and in no time we’re caught up in a whirlwind pursuit — including a spectacular gambol down the girded steps of the tower — that drives the last half of the picture. The bookending device dangles a “crime pays” promise that the American censors were not yet ready to accommodate. The title spawned both a Canadian band and a gay activist group. Charles Crichton directs.

The Three Musketeers (1973)

Richard Lester treats Alexander Dumas as if he were Brian Epstein and his musketeers a band of Beatles. No kidding. An adaptation of the venerable swashbuckler starring the Fab Four was up for discussion in the wake of the success of A Hard Day’s Night. That’s how Lester came to direct. In addition to his patented slapstick touch — Lester’s razor wit is sharper than any musketeer’s blade — the director brings with him an equally recognizable flair for good-natured violence, give or take an occasional goring when a point must be made. The adversarial sword fight that plays out beneath the opening credits turns out to be a practice duel between son and father. Dad’s last word as his boy leaves for Musketeer Camp is “Fight!” The film is relatively faithful to the source material, with D’Artagnan’s dust ups giving cause to an afternoon of staggered duels with future collaborators Athos (Oliver Reed). Aramis (Richard Chamberlain), and Porthos (Frank Finlay). Raquel Welch plays Constance Bonacieux as a dewy-eyed klutz, and for the first time in the actress’ career, she garnered uniform raves from the critics. What happened during production is what gives the film its historical importance: originally designed with a three-plus hours roadshow presentation in mind (complete with intermission), producers Alexander, Ilya, and Michael Salkind decided to split the film into two parts. (The Four Musketeers was released the following year.) Not all of the actors were made aware that they were working on what Charlton Heston referred to as a “two for one.” Several cast and crew members took their case to the courts, demanding that they be compensated for their work. This deceitful ploy gave rise to the “Salkind Clause,” a proviso that contractually requires filmmakers to advise cast and crew ahead of if a production is to be twinned.

Love and Death on Long Island (1997)

When first we are introduced to recently widowed Giles De’Ath (John Hurt), the book-smart, street-rough best-selling Brit has emerged from a self-imposed solitude just long enough to put in a rare appearance on a talk show. (The TV Guide descriptor characterizes him as “Erstwhile fogey, now cult.”) One Sunday (his live-in servant’s day off) finds De’Ath (that’s “Day-aa-th,” not “Deth”) locked out of his flat. The last time he took in a movie was on a single screen, long before the world was consumed by multiplexes, but now he finds himself with an afternoon to kill. Primed for an E.M. Forster adaptation, highbrow De’Ath mistakenly wanders into a neighboring auditorium’s matinee presentation of the sub-Porky’s facsimile Hotpants College II. It is here where our tight-arsed pedant discovers “beauty where no one thought to look for it” — in the eyes of Z-movie beefcake Ronnie Bostock (a knavishly self-deprecatory Jason Priestly). Hurt’s downfall from literary scion to giggly fanboy begins with a scrapbook of “Bostockana” and ends with a trip to America to meet his idol and, wouldn’t you know it, his idol’s live-in girlfriend Audrey (Fiona Loewi). The quickest way to a movie star’s heart is through their ego; everything that passes from our smitten egghead’s lips is aimed at getting in Ronnie’s pants. De’Ath has just enough smarts to get away with, “Were Shakespeare alive today, he’d be working on Hotpants College II,” and Ronnie is just vain enough to believe it. Working from a novel by Gilbert Adair, writer-director Richard Kwietniowski’s (Owning Mahowny) waggish, methodically arranged expose’ of the perils and ecstasies of falling in love at the movies is a fountain of constant delight.

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The Lavender Hill Mob are Stanley Holloway, Alec Guinness, Alfie Bass, and Sidney James.
The Lavender Hill Mob are Stanley Holloway, Alec Guinness, Alfie Bass, and Sidney James.

The British Film Institute launches BFI Player Classics on May 14. The new streaming outlet promises what it calls a “collection of classic British cinema specifically for the American market.” (I’m guessing that means no subtitles.) What follows is a trio of comedies guaranteed to delight. For more information on the subscription service, visit: https://www.bfi.org.uk/

The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)

Virtuous to a fault and 100% lacking in initiative in the eyes of his superiors, bank clerk Holland (Alec Guinness, eyes gleaming, chin tucked in chest) is the perfect employee. But don’t let his “fusby” comportment fool you. It’s an act, one that Holland has spent 20 years on the job refining. He oversees a weekly delivery of gold bullion, and after all that time, our inconspicuous wage earner has at last hit upon a plan to stick it to the man. A neighboring souvenir salesman (Stanley Holloway) provides the incentive for an airtight caper involving the melting of gold bars into miniature Eiffel Towers, six of which misguidedly wind up in the possession of a class of day-tripping schoolgirls. (Alfie Bass and Sidney James round out the mob.) What begins with a low-tech robbery gradually builds steam, and in no time we’re caught up in a whirlwind pursuit — including a spectacular gambol down the girded steps of the tower — that drives the last half of the picture. The bookending device dangles a “crime pays” promise that the American censors were not yet ready to accommodate. The title spawned both a Canadian band and a gay activist group. Charles Crichton directs.

The Three Musketeers (1973)

Richard Lester treats Alexander Dumas as if he were Brian Epstein and his musketeers a band of Beatles. No kidding. An adaptation of the venerable swashbuckler starring the Fab Four was up for discussion in the wake of the success of A Hard Day’s Night. That’s how Lester came to direct. In addition to his patented slapstick touch — Lester’s razor wit is sharper than any musketeer’s blade — the director brings with him an equally recognizable flair for good-natured violence, give or take an occasional goring when a point must be made. The adversarial sword fight that plays out beneath the opening credits turns out to be a practice duel between son and father. Dad’s last word as his boy leaves for Musketeer Camp is “Fight!” The film is relatively faithful to the source material, with D’Artagnan’s dust ups giving cause to an afternoon of staggered duels with future collaborators Athos (Oliver Reed). Aramis (Richard Chamberlain), and Porthos (Frank Finlay). Raquel Welch plays Constance Bonacieux as a dewy-eyed klutz, and for the first time in the actress’ career, she garnered uniform raves from the critics. What happened during production is what gives the film its historical importance: originally designed with a three-plus hours roadshow presentation in mind (complete with intermission), producers Alexander, Ilya, and Michael Salkind decided to split the film into two parts. (The Four Musketeers was released the following year.) Not all of the actors were made aware that they were working on what Charlton Heston referred to as a “two for one.” Several cast and crew members took their case to the courts, demanding that they be compensated for their work. This deceitful ploy gave rise to the “Salkind Clause,” a proviso that contractually requires filmmakers to advise cast and crew ahead of if a production is to be twinned.

Love and Death on Long Island (1997)

When first we are introduced to recently widowed Giles De’Ath (John Hurt), the book-smart, street-rough best-selling Brit has emerged from a self-imposed solitude just long enough to put in a rare appearance on a talk show. (The TV Guide descriptor characterizes him as “Erstwhile fogey, now cult.”) One Sunday (his live-in servant’s day off) finds De’Ath (that’s “Day-aa-th,” not “Deth”) locked out of his flat. The last time he took in a movie was on a single screen, long before the world was consumed by multiplexes, but now he finds himself with an afternoon to kill. Primed for an E.M. Forster adaptation, highbrow De’Ath mistakenly wanders into a neighboring auditorium’s matinee presentation of the sub-Porky’s facsimile Hotpants College II. It is here where our tight-arsed pedant discovers “beauty where no one thought to look for it” — in the eyes of Z-movie beefcake Ronnie Bostock (a knavishly self-deprecatory Jason Priestly). Hurt’s downfall from literary scion to giggly fanboy begins with a scrapbook of “Bostockana” and ends with a trip to America to meet his idol and, wouldn’t you know it, his idol’s live-in girlfriend Audrey (Fiona Loewi). The quickest way to a movie star’s heart is through their ego; everything that passes from our smitten egghead’s lips is aimed at getting in Ronnie’s pants. De’Ath has just enough smarts to get away with, “Were Shakespeare alive today, he’d be working on Hotpants College II,” and Ronnie is just vain enough to believe it. Working from a novel by Gilbert Adair, writer-director Richard Kwietniowski’s (Owning Mahowny) waggish, methodically arranged expose’ of the perils and ecstasies of falling in love at the movies is a fountain of constant delight.

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