Review: Morecambe & Wise Movie Collection [1965] - dir. Various

The Morecambe & Wise Movie Collection three-disc box set features a triple dose of films from the popular British comedy duo Morecambe and Wise. The three titles included in the collection are: "The Intelligence Men", "That Riviera Touch" and "The Magnificent Two".
The Intelligence Men [1965] is the big screen debut from popular British comedy duo, Eric and Ernie. The bungling spies attempt to go undercover in an enemy operation, however, as always with this hapless twosome, nothing ever goes as planned. Ernie is a pen pusher for the Secret Service and his friend Eric runs a cafe. When Eric accidentally encounters a summit meeting of an international criminal gang, M.I.5 decide to send the hapless pair undercover with Eric posing as "Major Cavendish". Riotous antics follow when they are assigned to protect the legendary Russian ballet dancer, Madame Petrovna, from assassins.
This film is an obvious but likable parody of the early Bond films and sets the pattern for all three films: Eric and Ernie as two well-meaning blunderers cast into an unfamiliar milieu (in this case, international espionage) and forced to survive armed with little more than a repertoire of wince-inducing puns, some great slapstick humour and Eric's trademark cheek slapping of Ernie. Robert Asher (The Bulldog Breed) manages to direct with aplomb, catching the nuances of both the British working class and the civil servants of old whilst still managing to squeeze in a well choreographed dance number in the style of the old 'Road to...' movies. That Riviera Touch [1966] is quite possibly the most popular of the three Morecambe and Wise movies. In this outing, the bumbling twosome are traffic wardens on holiday in the south of France who get involved with jewel thieves.

Again, Eric and Ernie find themselves cast as hapless ingénues, in this case a pair of traffic wardens whose holiday to the French Riviera intersects with the plotting of a gang of jewel thieves. If anything, it’s even more contrived than that sounds, but with a combination of Sidney Green's (Carry on Cabby) writing and the mid-sixties penchant for glamorous locations (A Shot in the Dark, Summer Holiday) it makes for a nice little diversion, the only thing missing is David Niven! The scenes in which Eric cleans out the casino by accident are wonderfully understated, and a reminder of what peerless comic actor he actually was.
The Magnificent Two [1967], the final and by some distance the least funny of the three, is an updated though rather laboured subversion of the Spaghetti Western, relying rather too much on the notion that anything and everything to do with foreigners is inherently hilarious.

The Morecambe & Wise Collection brings together the total cinematic oeuvre of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, though intermittently amusing, they serve mostly to confirm that Morecambe & Wise did the smart thing in devoting the majority of their career to television sketch show. Their comedy was definitely most potent in small doses.


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