Review of Rentadick from Monthly Film Bulletin, July 1972, pp. 143-4




Great Britain, 1972

Director:  Jim Clark

Cert--A.  dist--Rank.  p.c.--David Paradine   Films/Virgin.  p--Ned Sherrin, Terry Glinwood.  p. manager--Ron Fry.  2nd Unit d--Richard Loncraine.  asst. d--Michael Gowans.  sc--John Cleese, Graham Chapman,.  addit. dial--John Wells, John Fortune.  ph--John Coquillon.  col--Eastman Color.  ed--Martin Charles.  p. designer--Seamus Flannery.  a.d--Bruce Grimes.  sp. effects--Michael Albrechtsen.  m--Carl Davis.  song--Arthur Sullivan, Ned Sherrin, Caryl Brahms.  sung by--David Dee and The Kings Singers.  titles--Studio Film Laboratores.  sd. ed--Ian Fuller.  sd. rec--Christopher Moore.   l.p--James Booth (Hamilton), Richard Briers (Gannet), Julie Ege (Utta), Ronald Fraser (Upton), Donald Sinden (Armitage), Tsai Chin (Madame Greenfly), Kenneth Cope (West), John Wells (Owltruss), Richard Beckinsale (Hobbs), Michael Bentine (Hussein), Derek Griffiths (Henson), Leon Sinden (Police Inspector), Kristopher Kum, David Toguri and Max Raman (Japanese Gentlemen), Veronica Clifford (Garage Attendant), Cheryl Hall (Maxine), Spike Milligan (Customs Officer), Robert Gillespie and Ishaq Bux (Arabs), David Battley (Desk Sergeant), Winnie Holman (Maid), Patsy Crowther (Old Lady), Patricia Quinn (Chauffeuse), Penelope Keith (Madge), Michael Rothwell and Michael Sharvell Martin (Removal Men), Will Stampe (Gatekepper [sic]), Trevor Ray (Rivet), Charles Lewsen (Scientist), Michael Segal (Picnicker), Ellis Dale (Manager).  8,426 ft. 94 mins.

Armitage, a successful industrial chemist and "specialist in pollution", has invented a nerve gas which paralyses personnel from the waist down.  His formula is coveted by Madame Greenfly and her coven of Nippon spies, while his Swedish wife, Utta, is coveted by almost everybody, also from the waist down.  Armitage hires Major Upton, boss of Upton Rentadick Inc., to watch both his wife and his formula.  Upton's treacherous assistant Hamilton (also a part-time white-slaver) and another minion, the pusillanimous Gannet, are hired by Madame Greenfly to steal the formula.  After one abortive raid in which Gannet is trapped in the Armitage residence after accidentally succumbling to a tranquillising dart, Hamilton obtains the formula, only to have it seized again by Armitage before it can be handed over to Madame Greeenfly.  Meanwhile, Upton's one loyal agent, Hobbs, indulging an erotic fantasy about Utta, falls from an arboreal vantage point.  Armitage's confidence in Upton's professional integrity is not boosted when he discovers Hobbs in Utta's succouring arms, but it is the snivelling Gannet who proves his masculinity in Utta's bed.  Then Hamilton, with Owltruss, and West disguised as a mouse *(two other rotten apples in Upton's basket) steal an actual gas cylinder from the Armitage labs, but their getaway invalid carriage is intercepted by Upton in his security van.  There is a scuffle in which Hamilton paralyses West, Owltruss and policemen with the gas; pursued by everyone, including the Orientals in a fire engine, he escapes to El Shufti airport, centre of his slave-trade activities, where he falls victim to vengeful harem girls.  Utta escapes in an aeroplane with Upton and Prince Hussein, the white slaver.  She marries Hussein, and a disappointed Upton is relegated to the position of Major Domo in the harem.

Julie Ege is given the role of narrator to this ambiguously titled romp; but that is only another demonstration of the suppression of wit in the interests of titillation--a malady most incident to Julie Ege and current British film comedy.  Sado-masochism in the persons of James Booth and Richard Briers is another poor substitute for humour; nor are the Japanese, as represented by Tsai Chin newly emerged from a bag of flour, intrinsically funny.  (She actually says, "You know what they say about Oriental women.  It's true.  I show you.")   There is little left to laugh at, and the director is not aided by writers Cleese and Chapman whose brand of clipped inanity, though brilliant in sketches, doesn't lend itself to the structuring of linked comic situations.  One of the film's most amusing episodes involves the paralysing below the waist of several policement, who lie about like upturned beetles as Owltruss, a cunning 'upper-class twit', asks "Isn't maiming policemen in rather bad taste?"--thus epitomising the spineless moral anarchy of the whole conception.  There is no established social order to play against as there was in the days when the starchy underpinned bosom of Shirley Eaton was often on our screens; instead, we face the lewdly unbraced frontage of Julie Ege, Ronald Fraser's tremulously upright 'dick' and Donald Sinden's indignantly well-bred 'polluter' should be the rock against which the loucheness and shiftiness embodied in Ege and Booth are pitted.  But they are never allowed sufficient stature for their downfall to be funny, sad, or instructive.  The blessed relief of total insanity in the person of Spike Milligan's Arab Customs official ("Any fish derivatives? ...sodium glutamates?...artificial ski slopes?...inflatable models of Raquel Welch?...hand-carved bidets?") does not justify the previous ninety minutes of formless boredom.