Barry McKenzie Holds His Own Review

Bazza (Barry Crocker) and his Auntie Edna (Barry Humphries) are flying Frogair to Paris, to attend a seminar on “Christ and the Orgasm”. However, also on the plane are a couple of Eastern European hoods working for Count Erich Plasma (Donald Pleasence), the vampire president of Transylvania. Mistaking Edna for the Queen of England, they kidnap her and take her to Plasma’s home…

In October 1972, The Adventures of Barry McKenzie opened in Australia, to a critical slating but considerable public success. So a sequel was planned. Director Bruce Beresford wasn’t keen to make a second film, fearing that he would be typecast as a maker of vulgar comedies. Instead, he wanted to make something far more refined, namely an adaptation of Henry Handel Richardson’s novel The Getting of Wisdom. But he agreed to make Barry McKenzie Holds His Own in return for that other project, and co-wrote the script with Barry Humphries.

Frankly, this is a sequel too far. The joke has worn very thin by now, and despite some amusing moments, Holds His Own becomes pretty tiresome over an hour and a half. As you can gather from the plot, this is pretty silly stuff. Barry Crocker plays two roles – the other being Barry’s twin brother, the Reverend Kevin McKenzie – and Humphries four, including Senator Douglas Manton who introduces the “fillum” as an upstanding example of Australian cinema. Where the first film had one chundering scene, this one has two. Beresford and Humphries chuck in everything, to see if it works: there are a couple of musical numbers, not to mention a kung fu fighting sequence. Add some visual jokes (Barry in a boat in a sewer without any oars…think about it), a couple of references to recent film scandals (Barry is advised “It takes two to tango…better butter her up!”). As with the first film there are small roles for a plethora of English character actors, including Derek Guyler and Frank Windsor as policemen, Tommy Trinder as Bazza’s convict grandfather, John Le Mesurier, Arthur English and Roy Kinnear, not to mention Clive James (with hair!) as a drunken film critic and Fiona Richmond, who gets to flagellate Nell Campbell in a nightclub scene. And if that wasn’t enough, the film ends with the then Prime Minister of Australia, Gough Whitlam, bestowing Edna with her Damehood.

Needless to say, the critics loathed this film as much as the first one, and it did rather less well at the box office. With The Getting of Wisdom put into turnaround, Beresford returned to England to make what he reckons as the worst film of his career, Side by Side, featuring Humphries and a Parkinsons-afflicted Terry-Thomas as owners of a nightclub. His next film was Don’s Party which transformed his career. He finally got to make The Getting of Wisdom in 1979. Barry Crocker’s subsequent career highlights include an appearance as himself in Muriel’s Wedding, singing the Neighbours theme song, and earning the undying envy of many British males of a certain age by being the partner of former Doctor Who companion Katy Manning for the last sixteen years.

Although the film is mediocre at best, you can’t complain about the DVD package that Umbrella Entertainment have put together, showing their ongoing commitment to releasing classic and not-so-classic 70s and 80s Aussie cinema on DVD. Actually, you can complain – NO SUBTITLES! (More about that below.)

Barry McKenzie Holds His Own was shot in Scope, something that Beresford seems to have forgotten. (He claims on the DVD of Puberty Blues that that film was his first in Scope.) Beresford and DP Don McAlpine certainly make use of the wider screen: one shot (in the plane early on) has Barry and Edna at the extreme edges of the frame, both lost to my TV set’s overscan. The DVD is transferred in the correct 2.35:1 ratio, anamorphically enhanced. The film has a less than vibrant colour scheme, and there’s some grain to be seen, but considering the age of the material there’s nothing to complain about. The same can be said for the soundtrack, which is mono and proud of it. There are sixteen chapter stops.

Once again – NO SUBTITLES! Actually there are some, but they’re part of the film itself, translating some of the more outlandish Bazzaisms for the benefit of the Aussie-challenged. But if you’re hard of hearing…NO SUBTITLES!

First among the extras is a commentary from Barry Crocker. It’s an engaging listen, with a good few anecdotes. He’s certainly fond of the film and thinks more highly of it than I do, but we can forgive him that. He ends with a plug for his autobiography.

“Barry McKenzie: Ogre or Ocker?” is a documentary made for Australian TV at the time of the film’s release, at a time before colour television had arrived Down Under. Presented by Tony Ward, who looks alarmingly like a young Melvyn Bragg, this begins with footage of the Sydney premiere and discusses Barry as a representative Australian figure. We get to see that Barry Crocker had a full head of hear underneath Bazza’s trademark hat. That appears to be the sticking point for many: at a time when the local industry was only just reviving, many people were not happy at Australians being shown as drunken, chundering vulgarians. This documentary is remarkable for the very personal animosity between Humphries and a local film critic, who seem to have been interviewed separately for their own safety. It’s also notable for the absurd level of censorship applied to the film excerpts. Not only do CENSORED cards interrupt any nudity in the scene where Katya Wyeth appears, but great swathes of dialogue are bleeped out, making the film (which is only locally M-rated, don’t forget, even if the BBFC have never allowed under-eighteens to see it) seem much filthier than it actually is. I shouldn’t be too smug from a Brit perspective: the strongest swearwords would not have been allowed on the BBC or ITV back in 1974, but I very much doubt that they would have felt the need to remove phrases like “knee-trembler”. This featurette runs 50:58 and is a black and white 4:3 telerecording that seems distinctly lacking in contrast.

“Barry Humphries Gives Us the Good Oil” (24:07) is a 2003 interview, similar to but different from the one on the British release of The Adventures of Barry McKenzie. Humphries talks about the origins of the character as a comic strip in Private Eye, through the two films and beyond. Humphries also describes how he was invited to pitch a third Barry McKenzie movie. This would begin with Bazza in the outback, and would involve him travelling to New York and fighting off some drug smugglers. Erm, does that sound familiar to you?

Next up is some behind-the-scenes material. This is B-roll footage, presented unedited, complete with pops on the soundtrack at every splice. As this runs 32:17, I doubt many people will watch this more than once. Three teaser trailers (3:46) follow, each of which is a variation on Bazza and Edna introducing the movie to audiences, with a portrait of the Queen between them. Finally, there are six TV spots (2:21), three of them involving Crocker and Humphries in vox-pops outside a cinema, and a couple of black and white ones ending with “Now showing at the Ascot Theatre”.

The Adventures of Barry McKenzie was no-one’s idea of a great film, but it was an amusing one. Barry McKenzie Holds His Own takes the joke past breaking point, though I suspect ideal viewing conditions would include a six-pack of Fosters. There’s no doubt that Umbrella Entertainment have done a good job with the DVD release..

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