Privates on Parade - Funny stuff!!!
C. O. DeRiemer | 12/26/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Excellent movie. Serious subjects, lighthearted but not romanticised view of wartime. Great viewing!"
Amusing and Acerbic...But Something Of A Mess
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 04/06/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a movie which at times is very funny and very black, worth watching and for some worth having, but which also can't seem to decide which sacred cows it wants to gore or which messages it wants to deliver.
It's 1948 and the British are fighting a Communist insurrection in the Malayan jungles. For the British Army in Malaya, WWII has hardly stopped. Acting Captain Terri Dennis (Denis Quilley) heads up a ragtag group of inept soldiers whose job it is to improve morale by staging song and dance shows for the troops. Since there are few women available, most of the troupe doubles in full drag, including -- with great enthusiasm and queenly putdowns -- Dennis. The troupe is under the command of Major Giles Flack (John Cleese), a Bible quoting anti-communist Army man who is more inept than the soldiers under him. However, it seems British arms are being stolen from a depot and being sold to the guerillas. The ringleader is an Army sergeant. One thing leads to another and soon the troupe is on a tour of remote outposts in the northern jungle. Unbeknownst to them, they are transporting one last big haul of rifles and ammo.
Privates on Parade started life as an acerbic British review that interspersed dark themes with music hall pastiches. And that's what we have here. The troupe led by Quilley puts on songs and dances that parody Fred and Ginger, Marlene Dietrich, marching production numbers and Vera Lynn-type icky ballads ("When the shadows creep, over fields of sheep, with a love that's deep, you and I will go to sleep, doing all those little things we used to do."). The dialogue is full of sexual innuendo, bawdy one-liners and gay stereotyping, especially in Denis Quilley's great performance. But in between the numbers are increasingly bitter messages targeting the British empire, the behavior of British officers, the repression of gay love, the hypocrisy of some men toward women, and so on. I suspect that, like Oh, What a Lovely War, it was a far more effective stage review than it turned out to be a movie.
Denis Quilley is the heart of the movie as the flamboyant queen with a great heart and second-rate talent. He's the lead in drag in several of the musical numbers and is first-rate. John Cleese does John Cleese, and he's a welcome part of the movie. I suspect he took the role because he liked the point of view, and the producers (including George Harrison) wanted him for some star power. Among the soldiers in the troupe is David Bamber playing a somewhat talented young soldier whose companion, a rough-speaking but funny sergeant, is killed in a fire-fight. I remember Bamber for his wonderful performance as the oily Mr. Collins who lives for Lady Catherine de Bourgh's condescension in the BBC's Pride and Prejudice.
The movie is something of a curiosity piece. I liked it, but it never seemed able to settle down and pick its targets."
The sun never sets...on Englishmen in drag
D. Hartley | Seattle, WA USA | 09/12/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"A war dramedy that plays like an awkward hybrid of "How I Won The War" and "The Producers". John Cleese is the officer who leads a troupe of Special Services actors on the British equivalent of a USO tour of the 1948 Malaysian conflict. Hilarity ensues? Somewhat. Most of the belly laughs come from the actual stage numbers (you have to listen closely to the lyrics for full comic effect). Portrayal of the grim realities of war tempers the comedy somewhat. Veddy veddy British, which means that if you are already tuned into the Python/Red Dwarf/Benny Hill sensibility, you'll likely find the film an entertaining diversion. Other viewers may find it puzzling and uninvolving. Personally, I thought the most interesting aspect was the backdrop-the Malaysian confilict itself, which is rarely reviewed in history books and documentaries (possibly due to its close proximity to the end of WW 2). MGM's DVD sports a good transfer and decent audio. A guarded recommendation-to history buffs, Anglophiles, and Ptyhon completists."
William McCauley | New York, NY USA | 05/21/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Peter Nichols wrote plays about damaged people to get his point across that everyone is damaged in some way. In "Joe Egg" a married couple deals with raising a severely retarded child. "The National Health" depicts hospital patients who are as emotionally damaged as they are physically damaged. "Privates On Parade" presents the British version of a USO troop touring Southeast Asia in 1948. In all three plays the characters escape their troubles in song-and-dance routines. The film of "Privates" isn't as good as the actual play, but it is wonderful that it was filmed. They got John Cleese (fresh out of Monty Python and still falling back on his old routines) to play the commanding officer, but he is almost too competent to symbolize utterly oblivious authority. Most of the unit is gay, with Denis Quilley reprising his stage role of outrageous queen/star/director Terri Dennis. in the most touching number, "Sunnyside Lane," the two older men (even though one has a wife waiting in England, they have pledged to reenlist to stay together) sing of their shared happiness. This is a very funny film, perfect for any fan of amateur theatrics."