Up Frankie Howerd

“Up The Front” Directed by Bob Kellet. Starring Frankie Howerd, Dora Bryan, Lance Percival, Bill Fraser, Zsa Zsa Gabor. Distributed by Anglo-EMI. Cert ‘A’ – 88 mins.

05-197208xx-9Oooh. No. what? Ah. yes ….. No, Listen. Poor soul, no, don’t laugh. Who else but Francis Howerd, master of the double entendre and the camp gesture. Not seen much these days on television, and in danger of being knocked off his throne in that media by Larry Grayson, having now transferred his talents to celluloid. Let me put it on record, before I continue, I have been a fan since Variety Bandbox (whoops, me age is showin’). So when I blatantly state that he is wasted on film it is for genuine concern for him as an artist. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I have always preferred him as a stand-up comic, and do not think that situation comedy is his forte. I do of course understand his desire to progress, remembering him so long ago pleading with Johnny Speight to write a film script for him. I wish he had. It was obviously a market he wanted to conquer, and did, his first two films being box-office hits. But I always thought he was selecting his material with a care for his image. Like the late great Tony Hancock whose intention to move in a more artistic direction failed and tragically lost him his public and eventually his soul, maybe Frankie Howerd saw the moral. Although I would much rather sit through and enjoy the underrated ‘Punch and Judy Man’ than ‘Up the Front’.

The plot, as with the laughs, is thin, woven around Lurk (Howerd) as a loser, but under hypnosis, from a nice cameo role by Stanley Holloway, whose assistant has the most liquid jellified boobs I have ever seen, seeks to save England and become a war hero, which of course he does, by having the German master plan tattooed on his bum. Bill Fraser as ‘Groping’ (not just his name it’s his hobby) is excellent and has better lines than the star, as does Lance Percival as a German Officer. Dora Bryan plays Dora Bryan again, constantly squeaking the appalling title song … they don’t write ’em like that any more, in fact they wrote better. But despite a few asides Frankie Howerd has little or no comic lines; the only high-camp high-spot where he has a chance to shine is the scene with Zsa Zsa Gabor, as Mata Hari. So as ‘Carry Ons’ do, so will the ‘Ups’, continuing ad infinitum. Me?

I’m still diggin’ the Runaway Bus……