It’s 1967 and Yvonne (Lynn Redgrave) and Brenda (Rita Tushingham) have left their homes in the dreary North of England to try their luck in swinging London. Like the sailors in On the Town, they’re bundles of pent-up determined to see everything and do everything, more or less all at once, and without much of a plan. Unlike the sailors, Yvonne and Brenda are quickly relieved of one of their suitcases as well as their stash of cash by individuals who have taken note of their naivete (which they wear boldly on their sleeves, whether or not they are actually wearing sleeves).
The thefts are about the last realistic thing that happens in Smashing Time, and even they are played for laughs, because this is basically a Laurel and Hardy movie set in 1960s London with female leads. There’s a story line of sorts—through a series of improbabilities, Yvonne becomes a successful singer and Brenda a fashion model—but the real point are the slapstick set pieces in which they basically destroy British institutions like a fish and chips shop. There’s also a pie fight that has probably never been equaled on the big screen, and probably never should be.
Along the way, Michael York (sporting a variety of mostly embarassing looks in the hair and facial hair departments) turns up as a photographer, and stalwarts like Ian Carmichael, Irene Handl, and Peter Jones appear in small parts. Through it all, cinematographer Manny Wynn treats the viewer to a tour of mod London—Carnaby Street, Picadilly Circus, Charlotte Street, and the Post Office Tower (now the BT Tower) are among the locations featured, while two-decker buses and red phone booths are featured every bit as much as you would expect in a film that both celebrates and satirizes the Britain of the period.
Smashingt Time is perfectly mad, in the best British sense, and screenwriter George Melly (known primarily as a jazz musician, he wrote only one other feature-length screenplay) and director Desmond Davis (known primarily for Clash of the Titans) pull out all the stops as they go for impact over logic. This is the opposite of a well-made film, in other words, but it’s a lot of fun if you’re in the mood for high silliness. Besides its general over-the-topness, it doesn’t stint with the small pleasures, and you can congratulate yourself on being smart for recognizing which character names are drawn from the works of Lewis Carroll. Redgrave, playing the extrovert of the pair, has the showier role (and the shortest mini-skirts), but it’s Tushingham sho is the real revelation here. She proved she could play grim and gritty in A Taste of Honey(1961), but in Smashing Timeshe shows she can turn her hand equally well to comedy.
Smashing Time is distributed on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber. The main extra is an informative audio commentary by film historian Kat Ellinger, who points out some aspects of the film that might be missed by non-British viewers; the disc also includes trailers to four other films. | Sarah Boslaugh