It’s rare for the British Film Institute to show a ‘bad ‘un’ but in its showing of Smashing Time (1967) as part of its ‘Girlfriends: Projecting the Archive’, I think it did that.
The film had been referenced at the recent and very good Renown/Talking TV Pictures Festival at Rickmansworth when Smashing Time’s co-star Rita Tushingham was interviewed on stage. It has been said by her that she recalled little of the making of the film – and on viewing it you can understand why.
Although Melanie Williams (Gender Politics guru at the University of East Anglia) prefaced the screening with her thoughts on it and that it did show an early view of female companionship, it was really not much better than a ‘Carry On Swinging London’. Written by George Melly the jazz man and culture critic, it is supposed to be a satire on the London ‘scene’ at that time but regrettably it falls on most counts. It can’t decide if it is a satirical comedy or musical as it does not take much for any character in the film to start warbling about something or other.
The story –such as it is – is the well-worn one of two Northern girls who come down to London to find ‘Swinging London’ and be famous. Lyn Redgrave plays Yvonne who is clearly the more assertive of the couple of friends, who insists she is ‘in the know’ about trends and how to be ‘cool’. She is also quite mean as very early on, they have their money stolen and Yvonne leaves it to Brenda (Rita Tushingham) to have to work off their fried up breakfast/brunch/lunch. In playing Brenda, Tushingham does her best to make her character real – she comes across as being smart but always in the shadow of Yvonne and always having to do her dirty work for her.
The film soon descends into a series of custard pie throwing slapstick antics to fill up the space of barely 90 minutes which drags. They even managed to repeat a poor gag where Brenda ends up continuously falling into a puddle and in-between the slapstick, there is a sub-plot where lounge lizard Ian Carmichael tries to bed Yvonne, Cockney Michael York tries to bed Brenda, Brenda gets a job at a boutique but is too smart in actually selling items and Brenda getting a job as ‘pussy’ (I did say ‘Carry on Swinging London’) at a very low brow nightclub.
The film on its release was not a success as by then Swinging London had disappeared as quickly as it had arrived. The friendship between Brenda and Yvonne is pretty uneven as there does not seem to be any real regard and certainly little love between the two women. Smashing Time has the traditional ending where the two girls put their differences behind them and end up going back ‘up north’-presumably learning whatever lesson has been taught.
It is very much a period piece – if you want to see parts of London in the 1960’s and a long list of British character actors (Arthur Mullard, Irene Handl, Toni Palmer, George A Cooper….) doing their stuff then this may be to your taste, but personally it would be better to wait and see My Generation narrated by Sir Michael Caine for a more authentic and riveting journey though London and the 1960s….