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ARTHUR? ARTHUR! (1969; Cinefear).

Donald Pleasence tackled one of his all-too-infrequent top-billed roles in this forgotten British comic curiosity, following the convoluted trials and tribulations of Arthur, a struggling milquetoast whose frustrations lead to rather desperate measures. Based on The Man Who Killed Himself by British crime novelist Julian Symons, and working from a screenplay by first-timer Simeon George (with additional material by UK-sitcom writing partners John Esmonde and Bob Larbey), it's an absurd but only fitfully-fascinating mess... Mild-mannered, middle-aged, bespectacled inventor Arthur Brownjohn (Pleasence) hasn't had much luck lately. His dog-washing-machine prototype is a dud with investors, bitchy wife Clare has little faith in him and a budding friendship with fellow inventor Clennery Tubbs (Terry-Thomas), creator of a super-long-lasting windshield cleaner, eventually takes a sour turn. Nevertheless, undeterred Arthur works diligently in his attic workshop on new "brain children." This nebbish is also hiding a dirty little secret, because after slapping on a hairpiece and fake beard, he becomes suave, fast-talking Sir Easonby (nicknamed 'E'), owner of a matrimonial bureau that pairs up lonely singles and gives him the opportunity to bed his sexier clientele. He even has a second wife, Lady Joan Mellon (two-time Tony winner Tammy Grimes), who thinks always-on-the-go Easonby is actually a British spy! After fed-up Clare gives his entire workroom to the junkman, wimpy Arthur might not have the balls for revenge, but amoral 'E' is more than happy to woo and murder her... Script coherence wasn't necessarily a requirement for groovy, late-'60s comedies, but this one is even more fragmented than usual, particularly after a death-by-upright-Polyphon-music-box has our nouveau widower attending a "happening" hosted by handsome "Bobo" (THE LAST MATCH's Oliver Tobias, in his screen debut), hanging out with sexy Angela Grant (TALES FROM THE CRYPT) and becoming the butt of a rude practical joke. Plus Shelley Winters makes a late appearance as Hester, who traps Arthur in yet another loveless marriage and continues his cycle of discontent... It's certainly amusing to see Pleasence in the type of eccentric, multi-persona role that Peter Sellers usually played during that era, plus it looks like he was having a blast as Arthur's womanizing alter-ego. Unfortunately, director Samuel Gallu (who later penned the one-man Truman stage-play GIVE 'EM HELL, HARRY!) lacks the style and strangeness to transcend this inane, haphazard script, while the swinging music cues by Arthur Greenslade (arranger for Serge Gainsbourg, Cat Stevens, Dusty Springfield, and Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger") definitively nail the time period.

© 2014 by Steven Puchalski.