WORK IS A FOUR LETTER WORD (1968).
Following his acclaimed title role of MORGAN!, David Warner continued to rebel against 'normal' society in this wildly anarchic British comedy revolving around psychedelic fungi. It was also an odd choice of material for director Peter Hall, best known in the '60s as the Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. He recruited several RSC actors for this absurd gig, along with a script by novelist, playwright and RSC literary manager Jeremy Brooks, who adapted it from Henry Livings' stage play "Eh?" Warner plays Valentine Brose, an unemployed London lay-about who's trying to grow hallucinogenic mushrooms in his home (which explains his hobby of following behind mounted policemen and collecting horse manure). Val needs a 'steamy' place for his giant Mexican 'shrooms to flourish, and the perfect locale is a fully-automated power plant that's currently looking for a night janitor. He bursts into their top exec's office, destroys the place, is chased by security guards, but still gets the job. Meanwhile, Cilla Black (a Cavern Club hat-check girl turned '60s pop-singer, after being signed by Brian Epstein) co-stars as Betty Dorrick, who gamely suffers through boyfriend Val's anti-social behavior, such as moving their honeymoon to the power plant, so he can tend to his freaky fungi. The instant one of Valentine's (surprisingly quick-acting) magic mushrooms touches one's tongue, the trippy sound effects kick in and they're blissfully stoned. As in most farces, all of the characters converge during the finale, but what begins as a simple slapstick chase throughout the plant ends with everyone engorging on mushroom caps as big as their fist and an orgy of euphoric destruction. Hall's comic pacing is abysmal, but Warner's alternately rude and charming role has a lovably-subversive, Lennon-esque edge. The cinematography is provided by Gilbert Taylor (A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, DR. STRANGELOVE); the story's out-of-control technology, surveillance overkill and corporate inhumanity helped plant the seeds for later films such as BRAZIL; plus I'd swear I heard (RSC-member) Patrick Stewart's voice on a public address system. I was only 10-years-old when I first caught this warped comedy, and I didn't understand what the hell was happening (particularly the hallucinogenic mushroom bits). Watching it again, over 30 years later, I'm not surprised that I was so perplexed.
© 2004 by Steven Puchalski.