Rising Damp (British Comedy Collection) Review
Rigsby (Leonard Rossiter) has a couple of rooms to let in his London home and being a man of a certain age, hopes to use at least one of them in his search for romance, which is, to Rigsby's disappointment, a quest that seems without end. However, in his visit to the newsagent to place a card in the window, Rigsby considers that his run of ill luck in love may have come to an end when Miss Jones (Frances de la Tour) notes her interest in one of the rooms. However, said first meeting could have gone much better. Miss Jones, for example, might not have noticed the naturist magazine that Rigsby was holding in his hands. Or he might have avoided picking up the magazine at all.
Still, leaving the newsagent, Rigsby heads home, figuratively walking on air. When he reaches his house, he's approached by John (Christopher Strauli), a young artist who's interested in one of the rooms but once inside and informed of Rigsby's demands for rent, decides to take the second bed in the upstairs room, a room that he must share with Philip (Don Warrington). Fortunately, the two of them, after a somewhat shaky start during which John expresses his surprise that Philip isn't white, get on well, as they do with Miss Jones when she eventually moves in. But the road to romance is a rocky one and Rigsby path is hindered when the suave Seymour (Denholm Elliott) takes the final room in the house, tripping Rigsby up just when he senses Miss Jones growing fond of him. But Philip and John aren't quite sure about the new lodger and set about putting Rigsby back on the path to true love and ridding themselves of Seymour in the process...
And they say, being the kind of folk who proclaim themselves media-savvy in the likes of GQ and Vanity Fair but are still struggling with the moving of radio stations off AM and onto FM, that post-modernism was invented well into the eighties. But how else can one explain the way in which Leonard Rossiter slips in a gag about the Cinzano advertisements that he filmed with Joan Collins, saying that real life isn't like those adverts in which a man spills a drink into a skinny bird's lap. It's such a wonderful gag that one wants to applaud it but though it's likely to be the best line in the film, it's not the only funny one. Add in his belief that the bull that's standing behind him and Miss Jones is actually a cow, his constant criticism of John and Philip, his swallowing of a couple of pills to still his heart that have the unfortunate side effect of turning his waters green and his fawning over the ex-Air Force pilot Seymour, and you have a film that moves constantly between gags, situations and settings that continues, largely through characterisation, to work.
Basically a re-filming of the original show - this 1980 comedy follows the original television series by six years - Rising Damp lets Leonard Rossiter build on the character of Rigsby seemingly without any regard to plotting. A well-loved comic actor by the time this was made, Rossiter simply gets on with his portrayal of Rigsby, favouring a look that might not be literally to camera but which Rossiter is mentally noting as such. In that, he so clearly holds one's interest in events that it's a wonder anyone working behind the scenes actually bothered asking Christopher Strauli to appear on the set or why Denholm Elliot allowed himself to be upstaged so effortlessly. But in equal parts, Rigsby is, as the BBC describes him, "obnoxious - a nosey, bigoted, racist, lecherous but sexually frustrated, miserly, interfering wretch - but in Rossiter's hands he became somehow loveable." As in 'Till Death Do Us Part, Rising Damp succeeds in the way that Love Thy Neighbour does not, often because in spite of what Rigsby says about and to Philip, there is something of a friendship between them and in those moments when Rigsby is revealing his bigotry, he is dislikable.
However, Rising Damp was cheaply made and though there's plenty of good material in the film and some very fine comic performances, it feels small, as though it were better suited to a television broadcast than to it being shown in the cinemas. That said, it still doesn't feel particularly well suited even to DVD, much less so than either of the Steptoe And Son films or 'Till Death Do Us Part. In spite of Leonard Rossiter's best efforts, there is something about Rising Damp that doesn't quite work, great gags, post-modernism or not. Unlike those Steptoe And Son films, which have a following independent of the series, this is a pale imitation of the ITV sitcom. It's not even as successful as those Cinzano ads, which, in his mentioning of them, may be what Leonard Rossiter will be best remembered for.
Just when I thought that I had seen it all as regards these British sitcom spinoffs, along comes an entirely different transfer but one that is no less of a disappointment than the others in this run of releases. Happily, it's in widescreen, it looks fine on television and the print isn't in a bad condition but it's also non-anamorphic, meaning that one needs to make use of the ZOOM function on a television. What, then, didn't look that bad on a small screen, looks very poor when blown up to a big screen, with it then looking soft and very fuzzy. The audio is a little better but is very much on a par with the picture, with the rather duff theme song sounding as though it's playing on an of-the-era 8-track than on a Dolby Digital system.
After watching as many British sitcom spinoffs as I have done in recent days, I'm surprised to find one that has an extra, albeit only a Trailer (2m19s). Happily, though, it's presented in the manner of all decent old movie trailers with the rumbling tones of the voiceover man resounding around the name of Rigsby.
There is coming something of a tone of nostalgia about these Britcom reviews, largely from seeing these features with adult eyes. Steptoe And Son had much more pathos than I had remembered and Dick Emery and Ooh, You Are Awful was, after a slow start, much funnier than I had first thought. Love Thy Neighbour, if as rotten as I had thought on first seeing it, has long been thought of as being something of a bad egg in a run of British comedy that typically veers between great and being so very ordinary and that's not a feeling that one can argue with having seen it again. This is a surprise, though, being a funny film but which, in spite of being the best plotted of these films, is only a middling success.
However, this film, unlike the other Britcom spinoffs, has only been released in a single 16-disc boxset, which also includes Porridge, Bless This House, the Steptoe And Son double bill and the three On The Buses films. As well as the awful Love Thy Neighbour, this set takes in Ooh, You Are Awful, 'Till Death Do Us Part and Are You Being Served but picks up quite wonderfully with superb The Likely Lads. It's a considerable investment but the cheapest way to pick up the very best and the very worst spinoffs of British sitcoms and will doubtless be made welcome in many homes this Christmas.