Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Only Two Can Play


"This is a terrific example of a number of little English gems that Sellers made before his international stardom as Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther. The writing and directing are wonderful as is the great black and white cinematography that captures a dismal Welsh mining town. See it if you can find it."

The movie here is Only Two Can Play starring Peter Sellers and Mai Zetterling. I remember seeing this way back in `62 and was curious to see how it held up. Well, the film holds up a lot better than I have.

Sellers plays a small-town librarian who feels saddled with wife and children (one critic describes him as "henpecked" but since the worn but pretty wife is trapped with two squalling kids in a three room flat I don't think her irritability is unjustified). Zetterling plays the glamorous (and she is glamorous) wife of a local futzy pol who is just as bored as Sellers. The difference seems to be that she frequently does something about her boredom.

The interesting thing here is that for all the merriment--the suspense is provided by frequent situations in which the two would-be lovers are nearly caught at it--there is an undertow of the kitchen sink realism for which British movies were then known. A few scenes could have come straight from Saturday Night and Sunday Morning or Look Back In Anger.

You can sense Seller's talent getting ready to explode internationally. He doesn't play his librarian quite as broadly as he did some of his later and more famous characters but that wouldn't work here. Humbert Humbert remember was a mystery man. Our librarian is all too familiar--all of us who've felt trapped in our twenties and thirties and set about trying to amuse ourselves.

The only thing that bothers me is the image of the wife and kids in that grim little flat while Sellers is out rolling around with the sumptuous Ms. Zetterling. In my twenties this was all great fun to see. Now it looks sad to me and I like the Sellers character slightly less for doing it.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Funny how we notice different things after a time...Those poor wives in sagas like Look Back in Anger and other films of the time...There were just there to look like they were holding the fellows back. Nags and hags. Forty years on they break your heart.

Anonymous said...

It becomes even more obvious than it used to be both what a raw deal they were dealt as well, and why the poor put-upon protags weren't blameless in their misery.

Hell, Burgess supposedly thought that all young men go through a horrorshow phase, which I always thought pretty loony. Why I've always been as charming as I am now, sadly.

Fred Blosser said...

Maybe it's the fact that all of those movies like LOOK BACK IN ANGER (or at least the ones I remember) were in black and white, but lord, the U.K. in the '50s looked like one dismal place to live.