Robert Tanitch reviews the latest DVDs
EXPRESSO BONGO (BFI). Wolf Mankowitz’s 1958 stage musical, a satire on teenage pop idols and their exploitation in the music industry, is turned into a film vehicle in 1959 for 19-year-old Cliff Richard who plays his role totally straight and so the satire tends to be toothless. Bongo gets taken up as a toy boy by an ageing singer on the skids (Yolande Donlan) but it’s all so sexless you never believe it. Laurence Harvey (in the role created by Paul Scofield on stage) is the seedy agent. Sylvia Syms is his girl friend, a dumb stripper, and they have an amusing split screen sequence. Gilbert Harding puts in an appearance and Meier Tzelniker and Susan and Hampshire repeat their comic stage roles of record producer and vacuous debutante.
PINK STRING AND SEALING WAX (StudioCanal). This 1945 studio-bound melodrama, set in Brighton in the 1880s and based on a West End play, is directed by Robert Hamer for Ealing Studios. A tyrannical papa (Mervyn Johns), who is also a chemist, doesn’t want his daughter to become a famous singer like Madame Adeline Patti. Meanwhile, a barmaid (Googie Withers) decides to get rid of her unpleasant alcoholic husband (Gary Marsh) – not with pink string and sealing wax but with strychnine, which she steals from the chemist’s shop when his naive son (Gordon Jackson) isn’t looking. The script and the acting are stilted and stagey. Googie Withers was the nearest thing British cinema in the 1940’s got to afilm noir femme fatale.
THE SIGN OF THE FOUR (Second Sight). You do not have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that Conan Doyle has taken his inspiration for his second novel from the first great detective novel, Wilkie Collins’s Moonstone. ( “Eliminate the impossible and what remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”) Ian Richardson in this 1983 TV version looks absolutely chuffed and bemused that he is playing the great detective. He is so right for the role: he has the looks, the intellect and the smugness. David Healey is Dr Watson. John Pedrick is diminutive Tonga, the simian, who bares his teeth and has an irritating habit of shooting poisoned darts at everybody.