Diana Dors Double Bill Review
A pair of comedies featuring Diana Dors, the talented and striking British actress who couldn't quite flourish in the wake of unfair comparisons to Marilyn Monroe, are now available for the first time in a dual format UK release from the BFI. It's a double disc (one Blu-ray, one DVD) double bill (one not so bad, one not so good) devoted to a most worthy figure (double entendre intended). Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary, second in chronology but given primary focus here, has Dors play a mischievous troublemaker who may or may not still be legally married to an American GI now trying (unsuccessfully) to have a proper honeymoon with his new bride. My Wife's Lodger paints Dors even further into the background, and is more of a vehicle for its writer and star Dominic Roche. Both films do their best to hide small budgets but with only so much success. Director Maurice Elvey was near the end of a long and busy career by 1952/53, and his attempts to expand the action beyond its theatrical sort of limitations often seem obvious and unconvincing.
Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary - apparently not a question at all to go by the onscreen title - is a sliver of a trifle reconstituted as an antique. It's centered around a rather unlikeable protagonist (played by Bonar Colleano) who gets outsmarted by both of his wives. A character who isn't that sympathetic or lacks the intelligence found in basic common sense might not be too bad in some instances but to have a comedic lead who flaunts both qualities is too much. He keeps his new wife in the dark after the woman he'd married earlier, played by Dors, reemerges to claim their California divorce doesn't conform to English law. Helping along the way are a friend and lawyer (David Tomlinson) and a Navy buddy (Sid James). Things escalate as one might expect in this type of post-screwball farce. Throughout it all two quite attractive elements provide the necessary sigh of relief. One is Dors, so devilish and rather adorable as to be the perfect foil. She is, in a way, the antagonist of the piece but no red-blooded male would actively root against her. She not only gets the joke but she already knows how it'll all turn out. There's also Diana Decker, as the new wife. She's set up as an absolute fool for much of the picture before ultimately being allowed some form of mild revenge and settling into her role as sitcom spouse. It's an horrendous part made much better by Decker's insistence on playing it so lightly.
The 1952 feature My Wife's Lodger shares much of that same static camera flatness as the other film. It takes place largely inside the cramped home of returning soldier Willie Higginbottom (Dominic Roche), away in Korea for six years and, in a bit that manages to come off as both too flippant and too overdone, returns to a family that ignores him in much the same way they might had Willie just been out drinking at the pub for a few hours. At best, Willie is a ne'er-do-well and Roche, who also wrote the play the film is based on, becomes a victim of his own constant mugging. It prevents any attachment to the put-upon family man archetype. This can be gotten away with if the right comedic chops are there but such is not the case here. A last-minute swerving of the plot brought to mind W.C. Fields in It's a Gift and also made me realize just how far from the mark Roche the actor and writer falls short. Plus there's just way too much yelling and arguing for no apparent reason other than induced acrimony. A gag or two does land but it's hard to forgive overusing silly names like Charlie Farley and Roger the lodger and underusing the talents of Diana Dors. And were all American soldiers so loud and obnoxious like they're portrayed here?
I see no reason to shy away from admitting that I didn't think too highly of either of these pictures, and being upfront should always be valued, but perhaps the appeal extends beyond the limited merits of the efforts in whole to basically fulfill the promise of having a Diana Dors double bill. By this I mean that her star qualities are hardly lost even in lesser movies like these. In fact, the magic of Diana Dors' onscreen presence is possibly made more obvious when she's engaged in such unabashed drivel. At the very least, it's unassuming and harmless. Her connection to the material, particularly in Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary, is so beyond the limited routines of most all of the other participants that a sense of sadness at Dors' somewhat unmet potential may further dilute the joy of this release. There's also Yield to the Night, a starkly dramatic turn that was her favorite film and can be had on DVD from Optimum in the UK, to consider when thinking about Dors but you can probably see her unique appeal more in a picture like Is Your Honeymoon. I can think of at least a handful of actresses who could have done Yield to the Night successfully but it's tough to think of anyone else of this era who would have rivaled what she did in Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary.
The Disc (s)
The BFI adds this Diana Dors Double Bill of Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary and My Wife's Lodger to its continuing roster celebrating The Adelphi Collection. This is a Dual Format release containing both region-free Blu-ray and PAL DVD editions. The discs are dual-layered and contain no bonus material. A booklet, detailed below, can be found inside the transparent, extra thick Blu-ray size case. The sticker that plagued the cases of initial Dual Format releases from the BFI is in the proper place here, affixed to the outer plastic wrapper.
Both features have been transferred from their original 35mm mute negatives and are close to the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary might look just a touch better, with slightly less grain. Both transfers are nothing short of remarkable, though, and flaunt beautiful contrast levels. Nothing in the way of dirt or damage mars the presentation. Just one brief instance lasting only a couple of frames in My Wife's Lodger (visible via screen capture here) deserves mention. Otherwise, it's gorgeous. The silver quality of the image looks sensational. I was amazed at the detail in something like the protagonist's paisley robe in Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary. The DVD picture quality, while understandably a few notches beneath the 1080p high definition rendering, is also in good shape. The images in this review were taken from the standard definition version.
The audio on these films comes through cleanly, though still with a likely unavoidable flatness, in two-channel PCM mono tracks. The booklet notes that Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary's sound was transferred from a 35mm print while a combined 35mm dupe negative and a 16mm print were needed to create the audio track on My Wife's Lodger. There's a bit of mild crackle on Is Your Honeymoon but nothing problematic. The audio drops out at one point roughly half an hour into My Wife's Lodger, and there's a brief, seemingly out of place utterance that sounds like "take my wife" before things quickly return to normal. Also, during Diana Dors' crooning session the recorded song and corresponding dialogue have noticeably inferior sound that will disappoint those anxious to hear her singing. Otherwise, there are no real nagging issues with either film's audio and dialogue can easily be understood. Optional subtitles have been included for the films and are white in color.
You won't find any supplements on the discs, but a 32-page booklet does round out the package well enough. It has an essay on Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary that was written by Vic Pratt and goes for 3 pages. A fine appreciation of Diana Dors by Damon Wise lasts 5 pages and another pair contain some reflections by Dors' son Jason Lake. A 2-page contribution from Aubrey Freeman, who played Lucy the Maid alongside future husband David Tomlinson in Is Your Honeymoon, is a nice touch. Perhaps the most interesting piece of writing in the booklet is a look at My Wife's Lodger and its writer/star Dominic Roche, who becomes a sort of tragicomic figure in Pratt's 6-page essay. Director Maurice Elvey is briefly discussed across another 2 pages and Kate Lees talks about the Adelphi company, which she now manages, and its history for 3 more. Lots of stills and valuable technical information fill the rest of the booklet.