At the very peak of the British Invasion, few bands were as universally embraced as Herman's Hermits. Cheeky, cute, and capable of pumping out a piece of pure pop bliss now and again, they represented the clever, commercial phase of the movement. While The Beatles were experimenting with new sounds and structures and The Rolling Stones were perfecting their blues-based cock rock, Peter Noone and the boys rode a wave of sunny sentiment that would equally illuminate such other ancillary acts as Freddy and the Dreamers, Peter and Gordon, and Chad and Jeremy. As with many music phenomenons, movies were seen as a quick way to lay claim to more international attention. After all, the Fab Four more or less invented the idea with A Hard Day's Night (don't tell that to UK idol Cliff Richards, though). After a couple of cameos and a surreal space race comedy (Hang On), one of their most famous songs was used as the basis for a buoyant British class comedy. At the time, Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter must have played like a subversive slice of Manchester madness. Today, it's a curio cast in an equally confusing light.
Musician turned trainer Herman Tully (Peter Noone) is convinced that his pet greyhound, Mrs. Brown, has the stuff of champions. Sadly, all he needs is some money so that he can pay the dog's entry fees. He rounds up his bandmates - Keith (Keith Hopwood), Derek (Derek Leckenby), Karl (Karl Green), and Barry (Barry Whitwam) - and decides to start practicing. Once they get a few gigs, they will be able to enter the pampered pooch in the local Manchester competition. If it wins there, it's on to London and the big one. Of course, Herman's grandmother (Marjorie Rhodes) has little faith in his plan, especially when Herman ends up bringing an eccentric hobo named Percy (Lance Percival) home. Still, a former bookie turned fruit and vegetable magnet, G. G. Brown (Stanley Holloway) takes a fancy to the lads and invites them to visit if they ever make it to the big city. Finally raising enough cash to make the race, Herman and the gang head off to seek their fortune. Along the way, our hero runs into another Mrs. Brown (Mona Washburne) and her own "lovely daughter," Judy (Sarah Caldwell).
Who waits until the end of their run as teen dream Tiger Beat fodder to aim for a motion picture breakout? Similarly, who uses a hit from three years before as the hook attempting to reestablish such fading fan interest ? The obvious answer is Herman's Hermits (or whoever was handling them at the time). On paper, something like Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter should be gangbusters. The lads are very likeable and capable of controlling the screen. Their acting, while a bit stiff, is par for their rock and roll performer course. Noone is especially good at holding the hijinx center secure. In addition, several stellar supporting players were brought in to help, including My Fair Lady's Stanley Holloway and the Grand Dame of British theater/TV, Marjorie Rhodes. Add in a real slice of life feel (Manchester is often seen as more weird, working class version of Alice's Wonderland), a few decent songs, and a genial musical hall spirit and the results should be both toe tapping and knee slapping.
Instead, MBYGALD plays like a time capsule clipped of its humor and wit. The opening number tries to sell us on the dog racing angle, but then Noone's Herman gets a bizarre moment where he seems to be lecturing to his own urine (it happens in the family outhouse). After a bit more tomfoolery, the boys break into their first big number...and it's a perky product placement for a major hotel chain? (unless "Holiday Inn" means something else in Cockney). At first, it looks like the narrative will follow Hard Day's, featuring the band playing hits inbetween moments of mild amusement. But director Saul Swimmer has other ideas. He is making a counterculture musical, dammit, and no one is going to stop him, This leads to a demented dream sequence where Herman watches as the love of his life silently mouth words (not the lyrics to "There's a Kind of Hush," the tune playing, mind you) and the rest of this band pulls a bunch of shadowy birds. The boys play back up to a crazy pub act that highlights the old cliché stereotype re: the British populace's lack of available dentistry, and then Mr. 'Get Me to the Church On Time' gets a number revolving around the art of selling fruit. Huh?
It gets odder. Toward the end, when all seems lost, a split screen montage if offered in which all the major players participate in a dirge like tune taking the younger generation to task for not realizing the wealth of wisdom in their elders. Then to make matters worse, the title track gets a five second a cappela nod before briefly playing over the credits. In fact, almost all of Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter plays like a series of letdowns directly aimed at undermining fan expectations. Does Herman end up with the ritzy model gal? Take a wild guess - and you'd probably be wrong. Does Mrs. Brown win the big race? Once again, don't mortgage the homestead on your response. From the deus ex homeless man ending and difficult to decipher character motivations (does Herman want to be a rock star? a dog trainer? a schlub? some combination of all three?) to the Tin Pan atrocity tunes, it's almost impossible to embrace this movie as well made and amusing. It is an entertaining antique, but that's about it.
When you consider how rare this movie is, and how few film preservationists have been yelling for its restoration, you have to give Warner Brothers Archive Collection credit. The 2.40:1 widescreen image looks really good, sans some elements the studio can't control. Since there is no real desire to full remaster the print, the colors are a bit dull and faded. This is a gloomy looking England, not the bright and sparkly Summer of Love we've come to expect. Similarly, Swimmer's compositions leave a lot to be desired. His direction lacks panache, and the image bears this out.
As for the sonic situation here, we get a decent Dolby Digital Mono mix spread out over the front two speakers. The songs are a tad overmodulated, meaning that some of the power pop dynamic gets lost in cramped, crowded playback. The dialogue, while heavy on the UK parlance, it easy to understand and the overall presentation is perfect...for 1968.
You get a trailer. That's it.
Anyone who is a fan of Herman's Hermits, the group's goofy grin musicianship, '60s London swing, giddy English lad cheek, or formulaic 'local boy tries to make good' narrative will probably enjoy Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter. There is enough fun and frivolity here to earn a borderline Recommended rating. On the other hand, this movie just can't compare to the Beatles' classic comedies, or later music star vehicles like Rock and Roll High School or KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (wink). In the pantheon of great British Invasion groups, Herman's Hermits will always be second tier. In terms of their transition to movies, Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter argues for something slightly lower.