Saturday, April 29, 2017

Two Way Stretch

I was thinking of what to blog about today, and decided I'd look through my DVDs for something I haven't blogged about before, ultimately deciding on Two Way Stretch, off the same Peter Sellers box set as The Smallest Show on Earth, which I blogged about seven weeks ago.

Sellers plays Dodger Lane, whom we see at the beginning in a relatively cushy prison cell along with cellmates Price (Bernard Cribbins) and Knight (David Lodge). Part of the reason why it's so cushy is because the head of the guards, Jenkins, is a pushover who has an eternally optimistic view of the prisoners and their capability for rehabilitation. To that end, he's aided by the warden, called the Governor in British English (Maurice Denham). The Governor is even bringing in a welfare group to show them how good the prisoners are, unaware that they're taking severe advantage of him.

And then the Governor has a visitor for Lane: Stevens, Lane's vicar from his old parish (Wilfrid Hyde-White). Except that, from the way Lane responds to seeing the vicar, it's clear that the vicar and Lane have some problems in their relationship. Indeed, the vicar isn't a vicar at all, but a fellow criminal in the same gang as Lane, Price, and Knight. And Stevens was the only one with an alibi for the last heist, which is why he's a free man and they're in prison. But he's got a brilliant idea. Some sultan is coming to pick up his diamonds that he stores for safekeeping in the UK, and Stevens and the gang are going to steal the diamonds during transport. There's only one catch: Lane and his cellmates need to break out of prison for the heist, and then smuggle their way back into prison, so that they have an airtight alibi. (The prisoners are scheduled to be released on completion of their sentence soon, but after the transport that will result in the heist.)

With the Governor and Jenkins, getting out will be easy. So of course there's going to be a snag, which is that Jenkins is past retirement age, but has stayed on mostly because there's nobody to replace him. Only now, there is somebody to replace him, and Jenkins will soon be leaving. He's going to be replaced by Crout (Lionel Jeffries), who is an over-the-top martinet and brooks no nonsense from the prisoners in his charge. Getting out under Jenkins' watch would have been a breeze, but under Crout's watch? That's a problem.

There's nothing earth-shattering, ground-breaking, or even of any great significance, in Two Way Stretch. All it is is a jolly good ride. The movie was made in the pre-Strangelove stage of Sellers' career, when his characers weren't the irritating things you want to smack and which make some of the later movies nearly unwatchable. And he's got a wonderful supporting cast of British character actors, to the point that this is almost more of an ensemble cast than a Sellers vehicle. The gags almost uniformly work and don't insult the viewer's intelligence, even if there's relatively little new here. I particularly enjoyed the one involving distracting the guard supervising prison visits.

As I said back in March, the Peter Sellers box set is being sold at a fairly moderate price on Amazon. For that price, the films are more than worth it.

No comments: