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SIDE BY SIDE (1975).

Centered around a pair of rival, side-by-side nightclubs with clashing tastes in live music, this British musical-comedy is constructed around a typical, Ealing-style premise, but the botched end result lacks wit, style or laughs. The first and only pairing of gap-toothed Terry-Thomas, one of England's most abrasive character actors, and inexplicably popular Australian comedian/writer Barry Humphries, this slapdash mess was an early effort by Down Under director Bruce Beresford, who had previous helmed Humphries' two BARRY McKENZIE comedies, later gained critical respect for BREAKER MORANT, then flushed that away with Oscar-drivel like DRIVING MISS DAISY. Hey, at least this features some kick-ass musical performances... Terry-Thomas stars as veteran club owner Max Nugget, who continues to book old-time music hall acts into his rundown shithole, the Golden Nugget, with Humphries as his gloomy, piano-playing nephew Rodney. Directly next door, Sound City's young owner Gary (Billy Boyle) prefers to rock out to modern-day bands. Unfortunately, their little town of Sludgeley has an obscure ordinance that limits the area to only one nightclub, so it becomes a battle of survival. Whoever can hire the best live performers will remain. Gary heads to London to sign up some hot new acts, only to bump into pretty talent booker Julia (Stephanie DeSykes, who also gets to sing her Number 2 U.K. hit, "Born With a Smile on My Face"). And what are the odds? She's Max's niece! In addition, both club owners are dealing with a puckered-ass Inspector who's obsessed with eliminating "moral turpitude." This tired excuse for a plot often veers into broad slapstick, with the occasional tease courtesy of busty Violet (Jennifer Guy), who has an inexplicable crush on hypochondriac Rodney. Eventually, it all erupts in comic violence, true love and a pop culture collision that bridges the generation gap... The performances are uniformly strident, Terry-Thomas (who hadn't yet gone public with his 1971 Parkinson's diagnosis) looks quite bad, and there are few laughs to be found, but its (now wonderfully nostalgic) musical bits help energize this dreck. The band Hello rips through a high-powered cover of "Bend Me, Shape Me"; The Rubettes perform "I Can Do It"; glam rockers Kenny do their hit single "Fancy Pants"; Mac and Katie Kissoon sing "Sugar Candy Kisses"; Fox (with singer Noosha Fox) performs "Imagine Me, Imagine You"; Bob Kerr's Whoopee Band is glimpsed; and Mud joins in for the title tune. Best of all, Desmond Dekker performs "Israelites" for Sound City's showdown night (versus Nugget's booking of execrable vaudevillian Joe Baker). Fun in spurts but mostly dreadful, even Beresford publicly called the film "terrible."

© 2011 by Steven Puchalski.