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Smashing Time

Kl Studio Classics // Unrated // August 14, 2018
List Price: $24.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted September 19, 2018 | E-mail the Author

In 10 Words or Less

A swinging time with two groovy birds (I'm sorry.)

Reviewer's Bias*

Loves: Austin Powers
Likes: ‘60s London design
Dislikes: Rough British accents
Hates: The singing in this movie

The Show

According to popular belief (a.k.a. the oh-so-trustworthy Wikipedia and IMDb trivia section), Smashing Time was an influence on Mike Myers' psychedelic parody Austin Powers, and one look at the film's design (not to mention shared co-star Michael York) would confirm that as a very real possibility. From the moment Smashing Time starts, with the shrill blast of the film's theme song and a series of disturbingly stylized illustrated title cards, you know you're in for a very odd time, and that's exactly what you're getting for the next 96 minutes, as small-town Yvonne (Lynn Redgrave) and Brenda (Rita Tushingham) seek their future in big-city London in the swinging ‘60s.

Yvonne and Brenda are similar to many of the great comedic duos, as they are together despite an obvious mismatch in personalities, with tall, blonde, vivacious Yvonne dominating smaller, mousy, brunette Brenda and generally making her life miserable. Leading the pair head-first into a variety of misadventures, Yvonne is mainly thinking about herself, and she doesn't have that many brain cells left for anything else, which leaves Yvonne to fend for herself and cover for her so-called friend. The stress of trying to get on in London in the midst of an explosion of psychedelia and mod culture--not to mention Yvonne's special selfishness--puts their relationship to the test and puts the ladies at odds, leading to a showdown that could only happen in this very unusual film (or perhaps Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.)

Very much a product of the times (but too late for them, resulting in the film's failure at the box office in a post-swinging-era 1967) the film looks insane--with its swirling designs and brightly colored costuming--and plays out only a touch more mentally sound in the plotting. There's so much about it that confounds and astonishes, from the scene of a robotic uprising at an art exhibit (involving a machine that turns a man into a child) to the inclusion of not one, but two extended, wordless food fights, of lengths that made me say aloud, more than once, "What is happening?" This reaction was not limited to the food fights either, as the film often made reality a question. Sometimes the insanity makes for a fun time, but when it's a Benny Hill-esque sequence that overstays its welcome, it's just painful.

As odd as the film can be in many ways, one of its most unusual elements is the fact that it's essentially a musical in which people don't sing. There are several songs, sure, and they are sung--incredibly badly--by the characters, revealing inner thoughts and feelings, but the characters aren't singing on-screen. The songs are just playing over montages and scenes with those characters. There's something just simply awkward about this. Perhaps if the songs had been sung well (they are obviously intentionally bad, to fit the characters) it wouldn't feel so weird, but they are and it is.

Though the film has some amusing moments, if entertaining to simply look at and can be very smart (Yvonne's quest for fame includes a satirical song that's ridiculously over the top), it's incredibly uneven, and, in the end, the pay-off--a limited, nonsensical one if ever there was one--just isn't worth the journey. But if you want to see something different and unique, this is well worth a look.

The Disc

Kino Lorber has brought Smashing Time to homes on one Blu-ray disc, which is packed in a standard-width keepcase with the film's era-appropriate illustrated poster art on the front. The art also appears on the static menu--along with the film's excruciating theme song--which offers the choice to watch the film, select scenes, check out the bonus features and adjust the set-up. There are no audio options, but subtitles are available in English.

The Quality

The 1080p, 1.67:1 (column-boxed) AVC-encoded transfer on this Blu-ray comes from a new 4k scan of the original camera negative, and the result is a very impressive presentation, which delivers the film's visual pleasures with bright colors, a high level of fine detail and a nice, clean image that's free of distractions, physical or digital. The film is mostly a brightly-lit affair, with that classic, deeply-saturated look, but the few darker scenes look good as well, without issues with noise. The film has a stable layer of grain that aids the the classic feel. The disc looks great.

Presented with an DTS-HD MA 2.0 track, the film has the challenge of dealing with some very aggressive northern British accents (and captions came in very handy in adjusting to the sound.) Dialogue is clean and well-prioritized, despite many scenes featuring busy sound scapes, while sound effects and music is appropriately powerful (which, considering the singing, is good and bad.) There are no issues with distortion with the sound.

The Extras

Film historian Kat Ellinger--Editor-in-Chief of Diabolique magazine--offers up an in-depth commentary track, though in all honesty, she doesn't talk much about the movie at hand. She instead provides a wealth of information about the cast and crew and provides a ton of context regarding the British film industry of the era, the genre of female friendship films and the legacy of British comedy. It would have been nice to get more analysis and info about this film, but it's hugely informative and will be worth listening to for cinephiles.

Also on the disc are a quartet of trailers, including The Knack...and How to Get It, Billion Dollar Brain, Modesty Blaise and The Bed Sitting Room.

The Bottom Line

Smashing Time is definitely a case where the parts are more engaging than the whole, as there are elements that are fascinating, but the movie overall suffers from pacing issues, and the songs are rather painful to suffer through. But it is an experience like few others, and if you enjoyed the crazier ‘60s elements of Austin Powers or Beyond the Valley of the Dolls you'll want to check out what this film is selling, even with the weaker segments. Especially since Kino Lorber has done a great job with the presentation here and added an in-depth audio commentary that's a film class in itself.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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