No Spurs in Bed
By ISABEL QUIGLY The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw. (Carlton.) — What Lola Wants. (Warner.) — I Only Arsked. (Plaza.) EVERY. nation has its favourite national image and feels a pur- ring satisfaction when anyone else happens to agree with it. In half a dozen films Kenneth More has tried hard to bring it alive but has never found quite the right occasion, the right treatment, or (it began to look like) exactly the right talent to manage it. In an effort at serious biography, like the Bader film, he was too lightweight, too much the schoolboy; in near-farcical comedy like Next to No Time a few weeks ago he lacked the right lightness, and galumped a bit. There remained middling roles between the two, in which he established himself as a sort of generalised national image of English- ness (not Britishness : a fat' more slithery and un- predictable kettle of fish), the medium, middling, middlebrow Englishman but somehow never the essential Englishman, whose bowler smacked of the acting cupboard and whose dialogue came fresh from Greyfriars. The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (director : Raoul Walsh, 'LP certificate) gives him at last a light-hearted chance to excel in this single and so often unrewarding role of his. It requires no remarkable comic gifts, for script and subject look after the laughter : Mr. More is just an amiable and entirely suitable peg on which to hang the flattering joke that the Englishman comes out on top whatever the circumstances. National- istic hearts should glow at the sight of him routing Redskins with his umbrella, striking terror into the hearts of practised gunmen with a flick of his wrist, bringing peace and prosperity to the feud- torn Fractured Jaw in no time, putting the under- taker out of business, and, best of all, making off With the elusive heart of Jayne Mansfield as the saloon-girl Kate.
My favourite film territory is guyed with charm and some liveliness, though with a good deal of unnecessary stuffing towards the end. Among the best moments I shall treasure the green sheriff's Polite call on a pioneer family in the wilderness, Where, as Paw shovels. food into his mouth with the speed, regularity and noise of a middle-sized concrete-mixer, Baby sits in his high chair, casually firing off his little gun. Maw finally explodes with wrath and shoves Baby down into a basket of puppies. 'You bite one of them pups,' she warns, 'and I'll tan the hide off you.' Some of the jokes may be elderly, but some humour keeps well, like Christmas pudding : my favourite Western chestnut, for instance, the hotel notice saying : 'No spurs in bed.'
What Lola Wants (directors: George Abbott and Stanley Donen; 'U' certificate) is rather specialised comedy, involving baseball, the Faust legend, and a marvellous dancing witch, 172 years old, and only given a pleasingly incorruptible shape when the Devil feels it may be useful, called Gwen Verdon. It is the film version of the musical Damn Yankees, the tale of a middle-aged baseball fan who sells his soul to a travelling-salesman Devil for the chance to turn into a young and bril- liant player and save his team. The witch is part of the bait to lure him away from a middle-aged wife and, as happens in such stories, she falls in love with her victim : but love—earthbound, middle- aged love—defeats witchery in the end and leaves the Devil with a pretty poor bargain, biting his nails. The point of the film is the devil and the dancing. Ray Walston's devil is the smoothest essay in dapperness and salesmanship I ever saw; Miss Verdon's dancing, like her curious and suit- ably inhuman beauty, is pretty well indescribable. She combines the leggy, poised and ageless air of some exotic and faintly ridiculous bird with a gift, for tough and accurate clowning and the apparent physical ease of a child acrobat : in short, she is a find, and I hope we see much of her. 1 Only Arsked (director : Montgomery Tully; `U' certifi- cate): the nationalistic opposite of Fractured Jaw, showing the Englishman abroad looking (more or less continuously) foolish, in the shape of five grotesque privates, all either giants or dwarfs or otherwise off-human, sent to an oil-grubbing British protectorate in the Middle East to protect the ruler against his brother's 2,000 guerrillas. The `Army Game' boys, if you like them, headed by Bernard Bresslaw (whose half-witted air I find, on the whole, rather creepy than entertaining), carry on with what looks like a strictly family joke, not for non-military outsiders like me.