Forgotten Films: Only When I Larf (1968)

A seriously Forgotten Film, and with a twee title and rompish poster like that, you might almost hate it before sight. However, instead of CARRY ON style nonsense, this Paramount feature based on an unlikely comedic Len Deighton novel (who also produced) is actually a well-made caper film with a witty script and some deft direction by the late Basil Dearden (MASQUERADE; THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF), acted with verve and vigor by Richard Attenborough, David Hemmings and Alexandra Stewart. I was charmed into this movie during the Godardian dance number between Hemmings and Stewart. I have to admit that Hemmings has always left me a little chilly, possibly due to his aloof characters in BLOW-UP (1966) and even DEEP RED (1975), but this is easily his most appealing role, jumping through accents and characters, reflecting the cynical youth of the era, whereas the reliable Attenborough plays his crooked upper lip mentor with charm and authority. Stewart, an intelligent actress with an active career, whose films range from Otto Preminger’s EXODUS (1960) to Truffaut’s DAY FOR NIGHT (1973), is a terrific object of their desire, and there are good bits from a variety of familiar actors.

I like the playful, bantering roles the three thieves slip in and out of, signifying their criminal chameleonic natures. The literate script has some interesting cultural debates between the Brigadier and the Beatnik, each reflective of their time. “Ah, don’t start telling me How You Won The War,” Hemmings challenges as Attenborough retorts, “If it wasn’t for me and my generation, where would your conchy friends be?” In fact, this generational tension is the most interesting aspect of the story. If the film has any real problem is that it’s directed too casually, and simply lacks weight; it’s easy to see how it could fall into a movie black hole. Especially when the poster coyly promises, “These Three Do Everything Together!” over that newly designated kiss of adult box-office death, a “G” rating. Still, featuring a catchy Ron Grainer score, I was pleasantly surprised by ONLY WHEN I LARF and a hearty cheer to Netflix Instant Watch for providing another off the radar film.

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