Reviewed by Lee Broughton
Although it is generally more subtle in its approach, A Home of Your Own does play like a precursor to Ronnie Barker's Futtocks End: it's a 'silent' movie that generates laughs via sight gags, imaginative sound effects, expressive acting, amusing music and expert comic timing. As with Futtocks End, some of the characters here do occasionally speak to each other but all that we hear is a strange kind of incoherent mumbling that sounds like "rhubarb, rhubarb".
Boasting the presence of a really quite iconic set of British comic actors, this construction industry-set show is first and foremost an amusing comedy of errors. But viewers with an interest in realist cinema movements or satirical social commentary films might find something to their liking here too. Cinematographer Denys Coop shot three of the British New Wave's most respected features (John Schlesinger's A Kind of Loving and Billy Liar and Lindsay Anderson's This Sporting Life) and his expert cinematography captures the gritty reality of this show's genuine building site locations in a distinctly New Wave kind of way.
A young professional couple (Richard Briers and Bridget Armstrong) are driving down a motorway when they spot the following text on an advertisement hoarding: "Acquired for Modern Housing - A number of architect-designed homes to be erected on this site immediately...a deposit secures". They rush straight over to an estate agent's (Thorley Walters) office, pay their deposit and then start making wedding plans. Bureaucratic problems mean that the building work is delayed and, once work on the site does begin, a series of comic mishaps results in yet further delays.
The bulk of this film's running time focuses on the activities of six key workers. George Benson (The Creeping Flesh) is the elderly gatekeeper. He guides the traffic that enters the site and he also handles tea-making duties when it's time for the other workers' tea breaks. Ronnie Barker plays a concreter who takes his craft very seriously: his concrete has to be mixed just so and he takes pride in laying perfectly flat and smooth floors. Needless to say, he's driven to distraction and exasperation when his fine work is continually ruined before it's had time to set. Carry On regular Peter Butterworth appears here as a joiner who is badly in need of a new pair of spectacles: this need causes him all kinds of problems on the job and prompts him to stir his tea with a number of highly inappropriate objects. Bernard Cribbins (The Railway Children) plays a nervous stonemason who finds it hard to work if someone is watching him. He's been employed to chisel some text beneath a modern art sculpture but his nerves prompt a bout of dyslexia. Bill Fraser is the site's union representative and he suffers from a weak bladder. He spends most of the film trying unsuccessfully to get into the site's portable toilet. The final main character amongst the workers is a young labourer whose heart isn't really in the job.
While the film does cast doubts about the abilities of some of the workers represented here, its main gripe appears to be with the agents of bureaucracy, modernization and the consumer society. A number of the workers are shown to be somewhat incompetent but they do get their hands dirty and they do appear to be trying their best. By contrast, the building site manager (Norman Mitchell) doesn't appear to do anything: he seems incapable of offering any kind of leadership or instruction to his workforce. Special scorn appears to have been reserved for the building project's ineffectual architect and the managers of a number of public utility companies. The sharp-dressed architect clearly does not belong in the world of manual work, as represented by the building site. Whenever he visits, he invariably ends up face down in a muddy puddle or winds up having rubble tipped into his flashy convertible car. In one sequence, he parks his car on a pallet that is attached to a huge industrial crane: a lengthy and really quite stunning shot shows the car and the architect being lifted higher and higher while at the same time being swung further and further away from the camera.
As the film's opening credits roll, a series of rubber stamp impressions show the lengthy and troubled journey of the building project's development: after the estate agent has taken the young couple's deposit and stamped 'sold' on the contract we have further stamps which show 'application forwarded', 'refer to licencing authority', 'refer to county council', 'refer to ministry', 'urgent', 'priority', 'pending', 'postponed', 'deferred', 'amended', 'immediate' until, finally, we have the 'approved - licence granted' stamp. In the time that it has taken for the application to be approved, the site where the new modern homes are to be built has deteriorated badly. A once beautiful meadow has become an uneven, puddle-ridden tip that is littered with old cars and rubbish, which perhaps suggests that the architect's modernist visions and the consumer society are built on shaky foundations.
Communication between the modernized state's public utility companies is also shown to be poor. Three public utility companies (the electricity, gas and telephone services) each show up at the site on separate occasions. The supervisors of each concern pedantically insist on digging and laying their fittings in exactly the same spot as the others, meaning that the same hole is dug and filled in three times. When the young professionals eventually move into their new home, they find that their utilities have become hopelessly entangled: picking up an ornate shower head reveals that the shower has in fact been connected to the telephone line, etc. When Aubrey Woods's water works department begin searching for old underground water pipes, their modern scientific equipment draws a blank. After much speculative digging, they are forced to call upon the services of a traditional water-diviner. However, the diviner's twig initially only succeeds in finding the union representative urinating in a trench.
The film also seems to offer the suggestion that the young professional couple's woes are partially of their own making: they're kind of criticized for being taken in by the advertising hoarding's seductive content and for rushing into their deal with Thorley Walters's (Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, The Phantom of the Opera) avaricious and decidedly seedy estate agent. There's a touch of irony and social comment present in the film's title in as much as, in 1964, the building site workers who are the main focus of the film would not have earned enough to enjoy the option of buying a home of their own. The characters present here are clearly demarcated by their social class and their occupations.
To keep things balanced, the film does single out a couple of the building site team for a bit of a bashing. The young labourer represents the UK's then-emerging youth culture and so he's yet another representative of modern trends and the consumer society. He's a leather-clad rocker who is a member of the 'Hell Cats' motorcycle gang and it's suggested that he isn't interested in the job at hand because the pop music blasting from his ever-present transistor radio has turned him into a mindless zombie. The site's portable toilet becomes free just as the workers' tea break begins, so the desperate union rep pedantically exercises his right to a tea break instead of relieving himself. I guess it's possible that we were meant to be more critical of some of the other workers too. But, forty-two years on, the high levels of affection that the British public hold for comic characters like Ronnie Barker, Peter Butterworth and Bernard Cribbins means that our sympathies automatically rest with the workers they play here.
There's some really funny stuff present here and a lot of it is quite subtle. When the electricity board shows up, a seemingly impossible number of workers stream from a small port-a-cabin on the back of their van. One site worker transports two thick L-bend water pipes by sticking his arms in them until they fit right up to his shoulders. It gives him the appearance of being extremely muscular and soundtrack man Ron Goodwin (Village of the Damned and Children of the Damned) supplies a quick approximation of Popeye's theme tune as the pipe carrier struts past the astounded stonemason. The film's big punch line belongs to the stonemason. (Spoiler begins) The stonemason's text work is placed directly beneath a decidedly phallic-looking piece of modern art that stands at the entrance of the new housing estate. When the local mayor (Fred Emney) unveils the sculpture, the text is found to read as follows: "The money for this erection was raised by pubic subscriptions" (Spoiler ends).
The location filming done on an actual working building site, the film's focus on the workers activities and the authentic-looking costumes that the actors wear - along with cinematographer Denys Coop's participation - goes some way towards linking this show's general look and content to the British New Wave. A great little sequence that features the gatekeeper dragging a motley selection of old abandoned car seats to the corner of the meadow in order to construct an impromptu seating area out of them looks like something from an Italian neo-realist film. Although we can guess what's going to happen, the jarringly spectacular nature of the shot of the architect's car being lifted by the crane briefly results in one of those feelings of dizzy disorientation that are sometimes prompted by elements found within the more unconventional and anarchic French Nouvelle Vague films. All in all, A Home of Your Own remains an original, funny, thought-provoking and technically impressive 1960s British comedy.
The presence of a couple of noticeable video dropouts and the soft picture quality present on the check disc that I received suggest that Digital Classics have mastered this DVD from an old video master. Using a widescreen TV's first 'zoom' setting to correctly crop the film to a near perfect aspect ratio further highlights the softness of the picture here. A Home of Your Own was a British Lion release, so I guess it's always possible that the show's original elements disappeared along with those of The Wicker Man. The sound quality here remains very good. The release version of this disc contains an interview with producer Bob Kellett but the interview wasn't present on the check disc.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
A Home of Your Own rates:
Movie: Very Good ++
Video: Fair ++ / Good -
Sound: Very Good -
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 24, 2006
Text © Copyright 2007 Lee Broughton
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson
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