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Friday, June 17, 2016


Expecting a raucous comedy romp, I found IF IT'S TUESDAY, THIS MUST BE BELGIUM (1969) disappointing at first.  Gradually, though, I began to realize that I was watching something considerably less scatterbrained and more quietly clever in small ways than I'd thought, and that the movie regarded its screwball characters with a disarming fondness.

This isn't quite evident at first, however, when our American tour group arrives in jolly old England (the first in a whirlwind tour of nine countries in 18 days) and the movie tries too hard to mirror the hip, happening vibe of the era in its rather clueless way.  Thus, we get a lot of that freaky strobe-like editing that was in vogue at the time and are even treated to flashes of scribbled onscreen text containing "hip" one-liners in a "Laugh-In" vein.

Here, things resemble a less magical version of the Beatles' MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR only with more old fogeys wandering around complaining about everything.  It isn't until we get to know these people that their grumblings begin to be endearing, and even then much of the bad dubbing seems designed to take the bite out of their witty asides. 

Still, the movie gets better and better as we settle into its rather sedate pace and warm up to the characters.  And with a cast like this it isn't hard--this is one of the most amazing groups of character actors, stars doing cameos, and familiar faces in general that you could hope to see all in one place. 

First of all, nobody does world-weary grumbling better than guys like Norman Fell and Murray Hamilton, with the wonderful Reva Rose and Peggy Cass as their long-suffering wives.  One nice running gag involves Norman and Reva getting separated early on and his vain attempts to track down the Japanese tour group she's accidentally become a member of.  Hamilton has a nice vignette in which he tries to order some custom shoes in Venice from a cobbler played by famed director Vittorio De Sica. 

Also aboard the cross-continental tour bus are the likes of Michael Constantine (he's revisiting the places where he had the most fun in life--during WWII), Marty Ingles as a schlub who thinks he can score with European women, Mildred Natwick, a young Sandy Baron ("Seinfeld"), Pamela Britton, and Aubrey Morris ("Mr. Deltoid" of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE) as Harry Dix, a kleptomaniac determined to take half of Europe home in his luggage. (Be sure to watch the film to the very end, where he adds the final gag.)

One of the film's most charming features is the gradually-building romance between bachelor tour guide Charlie (a dashing Ian McShane in his way younger days) and Sam (Suzanne Pleshette), a single woman unsure of whether she's ready for marriage to her fiancé George.  Pleshette is at her peak of sophisticated loveliness here and is a joy to watch as she serves as catnip to notorious skirt-chaser Charlie.

Sam and Charlie's uneasy relationship is handled in a surprisingly adult manner and is actually interesting--in fact, it was during their first really good dialogue scene together that I realized I was starting to enjoy this movie as more than a lightweight comedy.  A morning-after love scene in their hotel room after a night of passion even resembles something out of a "foreign film."

Some of the other celebrity faces to spot along the way include John Cassavetes, Ben Gazzara, Joan Collins (stunning in one brief shot of her walking down the street in a miniskirt), Senta Berger, Virna Lisi, Anita Ekberg, Elsa Martinelli, Luke Halpin ("Flipper"), folk singer Donovan Leitch, and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." star Robert Vaughn as an Italian photographer. 

Shot entirely on location, the film is directed by Mel Stuart of WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY fame and written by David Shaw (A FOREIGN AFFAIR).

The DVD from Olive Films is in 1.85:1 widescreen and mono sound. Subtitles are in English.  A trailer is the sole extra.

After the usual "ugly American" gags have run their course, the old fogeys of IF IT'S TUESDAY, THIS MUST BE BELGIUM actually start being endearing.  (A big breakthrough is during a dinner scene when Murray decides that squid isn't so bad.) We've come to know them sufficiently that broad comedy strokes are unnecessary and simple character humor is enough to add a warm, satisfying glow to the proceedings. 

Buy it at

Release date: June 21, 2016


1 comment:

Rittster said...

For some “whatever happened to?” trivia, the woman who played the youngish girl (Hiarie Thompson, wearing the orange dress in the photos), ended up taking on a second career as an elementary school teacher, and was in training classes with me in the LA Unified School District program about 1997/98. Very, very nice lady.