Friday, September 04, 2009

cinema obscura: Muriel Box's "Rattle of a Simple Man" (1964)

Charles Dyer, who wrote the stage and screen versions of "Staircase," adapted his 1963 play "Rattle of a Simple Man" for the estimable director Muriel Box. Now long forgotten, both his play and its 1964 screen version work as the '60s predecessor to Judd Apatow's "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," dealing as it does with a pathetically inexperienced middle-aged man.
Diane Cilento plays with Harry H. Corbett's rattle in Muriel Box's British sex comedy
The title always struck me as playfully sexual.

On stage, the piece starred Edward Mulhare as the 40-year-old virgin and Tammy Grimes as the game woman who rescues him from his innocence/repression. (A very young George Segal played a supporting role on stage.)

That's a good cast, but I can hardly imagine it topping the film version's stars - Harry H. Corbett and the delectable Diane Cilento (who, at the time of the film's release, was best known for her supporting role in Tony Richardson's "Tom Jones" and also as Mrs. Sean Connery).

Percy (Corbett) is out with his soccer friend in London for the Cup Final and they end up in the company of a prostitute named Cyrenne (Cilento). Percy's friends are clearly aware that he is sexually inexperienced and, via a drunken bet and in attempt to make a fool of him, nudge Percy towards spending the night with Cyrenne.

What follows is a dialogue film, essentially set in one room, in which Percy and Cyrenne spar and get to know each other. Will she lure him into bed? Will he win his bet? Meanwhile, their on-going conversation is juxtaposed with scenes of his buddies getting progressively drunk.

Much like "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," the film is harsh and sweet, and Cilento is a revelation. But the film clearly belongs to Corbett, an endearing actor who starred in "Crooks and Coronets" (1969) and "Steptoe and Son" (1972) and died in 1982.

Muriel Box, the film's director, was one of the most productive female filmmakers her in day, perhaps best remembered for the sublime 1955 farce, "Simon and Laura," starring Peter Finch and Kay Kendall, an incomparable duo, as husband-wife actors who agree to do a daily BBC television show because they need the money (shades of reality TV), and "Subway in the Sky" (1959) with a very good Van Johnson as a military doctor in Berlin falsely accused of illegal dealing in drugs. Hildegard Knef co-starred.

Note in Passing: The stage version of "Rattle of a Simple Man" opened at the Booth Theater in New York on April 17, 1963.


Tom said...

I hadn't seen this film in 25 years. Finally found a guy in Canada selling copies, worth ever penny. The early 60's was a magical time for films in the UK. "The System" with Oliver Reed is another classic.

Margaret Cronin said...

I never saw this in the theater but in the middle of the afternoon on TV about 20 years ago. I thought it was kinda drab but very true to life, a lot like a lot of the British films of the time that it was made. I'd really like to see it again.

Chris said...

I remember seeing "Rattle of a Simple Man" on TV decades ago and liking it -- mostly for Cilento's performance.

To situate this in time: when I saw another film that would make a good candidate for Cinema Obscura," Peter Medak's "Negatives" (1968), I was interested in it because one of the two female leads was Diane Cilento. The other female lead, somebody named Glenda Jackson, was unfamiliar to me.

"Simple Man" makes a good compare 'n' contrast, in any case, with Herbert Ross' "The Owl and the Pussycat," which has much the same plot.