Reviewed by Lee Broughton
Many would argue that the late Ronnie Barker remains the British television public's best-loved comic talent. The Two Ronnies, which Barker fronted with fellow funny-man Ronnie Corbett, was a long-running and hugely popular comedy show that featured sketches, serial comic-drama featurettes and musical skits. Many of Barker's self-penned solo-spots within the show were of an eccentric nature, featuring characters who spoke using unusual forms of diction or pronunciation. Barker also proved himself to be a consummate comedy character actor in a number of popular sitcoms that ran concurrent to The Two Ronnies.
Before creating The Two Ronnies, Barker and Corbett had been part of a trio who performed skits and sketches on David Frost's 1966 show, The Frost Report: the third member of that trio was future Monty Python star John Cleese. Earlier still, in 1962 Barker had appeared on the Benny Hill show. It's a handy point of reference because, in some ways, Futtocks End plays a little like an extended version of the kind of self-contained comic featurettes that Hill often included in his television shows. It's essentially a slightly saucy silent movie that generates laughs via sight gags, camera speed tricks, imaginative sound effects, expressive acting, amusing music and expert comic timing. Most people remember Barker for his verbal dexterity and so writing - and acting in - a silent comedy that worked really served to highlight yet another aspect of his diverse comic talents.
General Futtock (Ronnie Barker) receives a telegram that informs him that some of his eccentric family and friends are planning to spend the weekend at his country estate. When the genial host picks his guests up at the local train station, a Japanese businessman (Kim Kee Lim), who speaks no English, inadvertently joins their party. Further comic mishaps ensue when the party arrive at Futtock's rambling mansion house.
The first thing that's noticeable about Futtocks End is just how generous Ronnie Barker was when it came to allotting screen time and laughs to his fellow actors. Barker gets joint top billing as the befuddled Futtock but he doesn't hog the camera or the laughs. Barker's retired, monocle-wearing General sometimes comes on like a doddering old fool whose privileged upbringing has affected his grasp of reality. When he insists on reading his mail while taking a shower, the shower spray causes the ink to run off his letters before he's had time to read them. Michael Hordern, who shares joint top-billing with Barker, essentially got the film's plum role as Futtock's butler. The Butler is a well-defined and detailed character and there's a touch of class-based antipathy present between the Butler and his boss. The Butler is clearly resentful that he has to serve another man and yet he also delights in lording it over the rest of Futtock's staff. His arrogant manner and contemptuous nature even sees the Butler taking delight in terrorizing Aubrey Woods's gentle postman.
The Butler is also something of a sleazy and lecherous fellow who has a penchant for spying through bedroom door keyholes in the hope of catching the female guests in a state of undress. He's also out to grasp anything of a material nature that he can: he's observed purloining food and the General's alcohol and cigars, etc. There's an interesting interplay present between Barker and Hordern here that sometimes brings to mind the relationship shared by Trevor Howard's eccentric aristocrat and J.G. Devlin's curious butler in Steve Roberts's bizarre Sir Henry at Rawlinson End. It could be that Futtocks End had a small influence on Vivian Stanshall's numerous sagas about Rawlinson End.
Futtocks End also features a good number of other well-observed comic characters. The Twit (Julian Orchard) is a silly-ass aristocrat whose amorous advances towards the Bird (Hilary Pritchard) appear to be doomed to failure. Orchard was well known for expertly portraying upper class figures of fun and he appeared in a number of the Carry On films. The Bird is a late 1960s dolly bird-type and the film's script calls for the lovely Hilary Pritchard to be caught in various stages of undress. Continually catching sight of her underwear causes General Futtock no end of problems: looking at her exposed legs while simultaneously cutting the meat for dinner results in the General serving the Artist (Roger Livesey) a slice of his neck tie. The elderly Aunt (Mary Merrall) is largely content to sit and knit at all times but the Artist is determined to do some landscape painting. Unfortunately, whenever he sits down to paint, some unforeseen occurrence causes part of the landscape to change when he's not looking. When the Butler brings him a glass of beer, the Artist inadvertently winds up drinking the contents of his paint brush cleaning jar instead. Only the Niece (Kika Markham, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Liz Hurley here) appears to be remotely normal.
Futtock's sprawling mansion is a little like the strange house found in Harry Kumel's classic Euro-fantasy, Malpertuis: its interior is so vast that Futtock needs a map to find his way around it. When the party first arrive there, the Japanese businessman gets lost within the mansion's rambling corridors and he spends the rest of the film trying to find his way out. Much is made of the mansion's chronic state of disrepair. Flushing a toilet or flicking a light switch causes all sorts of comic mayhem in this comedy of errors. Further problems arise due to the incompetence of Futtock's other staff: the Cook (Peggy Ann Clifford), the Maid (Jennifer Cox), the Boots (Richard O'Sullivan) and the Tweenies (Suzanne Togni and Sammie Winmill) all play a part in generating the chaos that surrounds Futtock and his guests. At times, sight gags flow thick and fast: when the General goes shooting, he bags a bird but his dog brings back a rabbit and then a pair of the Maid's knickers. Futtock puts the knickers in his pocket only to cause outrage when he later pulls them out and uses them as a handkerchief. When the guests enjoy afternoon tea on the lawn, Futtock's dog absconds with a bun which the Boots then throws into a dirty lake. When the dog retrieves it, the Boots drop-kicks the bun over a hedge and it lands on the mansion's lawn. One of the Tweenies dutifully returns it to a nearby serving tray and Futtock ends up eating it.
Some of the show's larger set-pieces are given time to build into truly impressive comedy scenes that utilize the talents of all of the ensemble cast. The guests taking evening dinner is one such example. The Butler's plans to sneak off with the contents of a bottle of spirits go wrong and Futtock and his guests inadvertently wind up in an extremely inebriated state. At one stage the dinner guests unknowingly kick a dropped bread roll to each other as they move their feet around beneath the dinner table: all the while the noise of a football match can be heard on the soundtrack. The next morning at breakfast they're all in a very sorry state, suffering with hangovers. It's here that the film's clever use of sound effects really kicks in. Each time that the Twit lifts and replaces the lid of a silver serving bowl, a deafening cymbal crashes. When he pours milk onto his Rice Krispies-like breakfast cereal, the sound of gunfire replaces the expected 'snap, crackle and pop' sounds, etc. When the Cook moves around the mansion with the Tweenies in tow, the sound of a mother hen and her chicks can be heard. In his fairly interesting commentary track, director Bob Kellett calls the film a "picture with no dialogue" rather than a silent movie, which is fair enough. The characters here are actually seen to speak and communicate with each other but all we hear is a strange kind of incoherent mumbling that sounds like "humpphh, rhubarb, rhubarb" or silly-ass tittering.
Kellett's commentary track confirms that cinematographer Johnny Coquillon was none other than Canadian John Coquillon. Coquillon lensed a number of American International's British horror productions during the 1960s and shot a number of Sam Peckinpah's films during the 1970s. Kellett praises the cinematographer's talent for expertly lighting scenes and getting ample coverage from a number of interesting angles. His work can certainly be appreciated in the finished film. Kellett, for his part, produced and directed a well-acted, smart-looking and tightly-edited little show that remains consistently funny throughout its run time. Kellett's tales of budget problems and the difficulties of finding costumes, props and dressings (Hilary Pritchard provided all of her own outfits, while the cast and crew provided much of the furniture, etc, on display since the mansion house that they filmed in was abandoned and empty) are interesting because none of these monetary problems can be detected on screen. Futtocks End features some fine British actors whose talent and enthusiasm surely helped the film to transcend its budgetary limitations. Bob Sharples's varied, amusing and engaging soundtrack score is as expressive as the film's actors for the most part. Kellett reports that wary American distributors feared that 'Futtock' might be a naughty word but their calls for a change of title were unsuccessful. The show is quite cheeky in places but it essentially plays like a saucy British seaside postcard joke brought to life.
Digital Classics have given Futtocks End a very decent presentation here. The show was shot on film and there is a touch of print damage present in places. Nothing too serious, just the odd outbreak of minor scratches and flecks. The picture remains quite sharp for a flat presentation and the disc's colour quality is fine. The disc's sound quality is very good, too. Bob Kellett's commentary track is a worthy extra feature.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Futtocks End rates:
Movie: Very Good ++
Video: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: Commentary track by Bob Kellett.
Packaging: Separate releases in Keep cases
Reviewed: July 6, 2006
Text © Copyright 2007 Lee Broughton
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson
Go BACK to the Savant Main Page.
Reviews on the Savant main site have additional credits information and are more likely to be updated and annotated with reader input.
Return to Top of Page