Not Now Darling Review
Not Now Darling famously started out as a stage play. It made its debut in 1967 and soon enough had established itself as a fixture on the West End with Bernard Cribbins and Donald Sinden occupying the leads. A Broadway run, with an American cast, came calling in 1970 and, inevitably, so did this movie adaptation two years later. The play was the brainchild of Ray Cooney and John Roy Chapman, the first in a series of collaborations between the two writers that would extend to further theatrical farces: My Giddy Aunt, Move Over Mrs Markham, There Goes the Bride. Previously they’d been best known, respectively, for co-writing the 1962 comedy-horror What a Carve Up! and for the mid-fifties hit play Dry Rot (later adapted for the big screen itself). Both continued to write to great success afterwards too. According to Chapman’s obituary in the Telegraph, there was never an occasion after Dry Rot when one of his plays was not being performed either in the UK or on the Continent. Meanwhile, Cooney most notably produced Run For Your Wife in the early eighties - again with Cribbins - which ran for almost six years in the West End.
Both Cooney and Chapman were heavily involved in bringing Not Now Darling to the screen. Cooney acts and co-directs, whilst Chapman set about adapting their play for the new medium. Unsurprisingly they’ve stayed faithful to their creation, the end result being a film whose theatrical origins are almost immediately obvious. I say almost immediately as we at least enjoy some exterior shots during the opening credits. Thereafter, and for the vast majority of what is to follow, we are stuck on a single set designed to encourage the comings-and-goings of its various cast members. They include a range of familiar faces and a few who’ve since been forgotten. Leslie Phillips is the joint male lead alongside Cooney with Joan Sims, Barbara Windsor, Julie Ege, Moira Lister and Cicely Courtneidge (in her final onscreen role) being the main female players. Bill Fraser gets a supporting turn as does Derren Nesbitt, plus we have Peter Butterworth and Graham Stark popping up uncredited from time to time.
That main set is the interior of a London furriers, a locale that instantly dates proceedings. Combined with Phillips going about his usual lechery and Windsor her usual suggestive nudity and you have a genuine relic from the past. The political incorrectness of both is such that modern revivals of the stage play are invariably set it in the recent past and come with a disclaimer noting that all furs used are of the faux variety. Yet, despite all of this, there is an innocence to the piece. Before the film’s production the title had been ripped off for a tawdry British sex film, Not Tonight, Darling!, aka Sex in the Suburbs. Odeon have decided to include Not Now Darling as part of their ‘Slap and Tickle’, but it would be wrong to consider this an entry in the British sex comedy cycle. It has most of its female cast strip down to their underwear or more and the entire plot is based around infidelity - everyone is connected by a wife/mistress or husband/lover - though the tone and overall content is closer to one of Phillips’ Doctor movies or a Carry On than it is Confessions of a Window Cleaner or The Amorous Milkman. The jokes revolve almost entirely around wordplay and innuendo: stuffing, Charlies, flagpoles and more besides are milked for their alternate meanings and ability to make Cooney do a double-take.
As well as the Carry On and Doctor franchises, Not Now Darling also trades heavily on the sitcom. Cooney’s co-director is David Croft, the man behind Are You Being Served? and Dad’s Army both as co-writer and director. Their multi-camera approach is replicated here thanks to the MultiVista system devised by Laurie Marsh. Marsh was the owner of a cinema chain who’d occasionally dabbled in film production with Tigon. You’ll find the name of his production company on Neither the Sea Nor the Sand and The Creeping Flesh as well as little-seen Pinter adaptation Landscape. Apparently he was also involved somewhat in brining Hannie Caulder to the screen. His MultiVista process was a means of combining both shooting and editing in the manner of television production and was intended to revolutionise the industry. As it turned out it would also be used on Joseph McGrath and Spike Milligan’s The Great McGonagall as well as Not Now Comrade which, despite the name, was not a sequel but rather an opportunistically named adaptation of Cooney’s earlier play Chase Me, Comrade. The system wasn’t in fact revolutionary and the side effect nowadays is that Not Now Darling and its other demonstrations resemble live television. Look close enough and you’ll spot unintentional zooms, awkward panning shots and even a fluffed line or two.
The end result is endearingly awful. Time hasn’t been kind, but it has added a slight nostalgic tint which makes Not Now Darling enjoyable despite itself these days. Phillips, Windsor, Cooney and the rest are all consummate professionals, which helps immensely, though the creakiness of the material shines through. I was going to end this review by noting that they don’t make them like this anymore, but it turns out they do. Cooney has just finished production on a brand new big-screen adaptation of Run For Your Wife which promises to bring together Danny Dyer, Rolf Harris, Cliff Richard, one of Girls Aloud and Denise Van Outen. You have been warned.
Not Now Darling is gaining a new DVD release in the UK thanks to Odeon’s ‘Best of British’ range, specifically their ‘Slap & Tickle’ division. The film has been previously available since 2007 from Slam Dunk Media, though I’ve never seen that disc to offer up a comparison. As seen on this release, Not Now Darling appears in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio that would appear to be an open matte rendering. It’s difficult to ascertain entirely owing to the MultiVista approach, but most shots come with excessive head space. The full-frame also serves to emphasise the similarities to the sitcoms of the time as noted in the main bulk of this review. As is usual for Odeon there are no optional subtitles for this disc but, on the whole, it looks and sounds very good. Detail is generally strong and the soundtrack ably copes with the dialogue-heavy nature. There are occasional dips in picture quality but I suspect, again, we can lay the blame on MultiVista rather than the transfer. Damage, meanwhile, is rare and minimal when it does appear. Note also that despite the PG certificate, there is a surprising amount of topless nudity. As for extras, here we find the expected theatrical trailer and stills gallery, plus cross-promotional trailers for other Odeon releases. Some of these haven’t been announced as yet, so expect to see Maurice Elvey’s The Harassed Hero (1954) and three from Daniel Birt - Meet Mr. Malcolm (1954), The Night Won’t Talk (1952) and Three Steps in the Dark (1953) - up for pre-order soon enough.