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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

'Up the Front' DVD: Brit. WWI Farce Shows Britannia Rules the (Air) Waves

[EDITOR'S NOTE: This Region-Four Australian import will not play in a standard U.S. DVD player. Watching it requires using an international region-free player.]

The 1972 theatrical British comedy "Up the Front" which Madman Entertainment recently released on DVD, is typical for the titles from the Britannia film collection division of Madman. This collection consists almost entirely of feature films based on Britcoms. Examples that are familiar to American audiences are "Steptoe and Son" and "Man About the House," These titles respectively inspired "Sanford and Son" and "Three's Company."

"Front" is similar to the classic Britcom "Black Adder" in terms of engaging in time travel.  The risque broad farce "Up Pompeii"is set in the period before the historic volcanic eruption in the titular city. "Front" stars "Pompeii" lead Frankie Howard as WWI-era shoeshine boy Lurk who almost certainly is a descendant of his Lurcio "Pompeii" character.

"Front" opens with scenes of the typical inter-related "upstairs" and "downstairs" activities at an English manor house literally at the brink of WWI (i.e, The Great War). The aptly named Lurk observes much of said shenanigans by lingering outside closed doors and peeking in keyholes.

An adversarial working relationship and personal rivalry with the aptly named butler Groping finds cowardly Lurk attending a lively Army recruiting event. Lurk getting into the act hilariously leads to getting into the service.

Other great general fun relates to Howard engaging in the regular asides to the audience that he uses to the proverbially great effect in "Pompeii" and the well-performed broad stereotypes regarding each character. The cathartic element of this is that Lurk the stooge comes across far better than his pompous and/or foolish  'betters."

Once in France, Lurk finds himself in a series of comically unfortunate circumstances that are typical for farces with a little political humor thrown in for good measure. A scene in which an oblivious Lurk sits by during a rapid-fire series of advances and retreats is a perfect example of the hybrid humor described above.

This hilarity climaxes with Lurk stumbling into a situation that makes him essential to the British war effort. Highlights of this portion of front include a scene very reminiscent of the classic "chalice" scene from "The Court Jester" in which Lurk matches with Mata Hari, wonderfully played by Zsa Zsa Gabor.

The final scene nicely wraps up the film with the silliness and the word play (including the title of the film) that make "Front" a true delight.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Front" is encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.