Half a Sixpence (1967)
“Flash BANG Wallop What a Picture!”
Director: George Sidney
Cast: Tommy Steele, Julia Foster, Cyril Ritchard
Synopsis: Arthur Kipps, an orphan apprenticed to a tyrannical owner of a mercantile, has a sudden abrupt change of life when his wealthy grandfather dies and leaves him a pile of money.
An H. G. Wells story is a peculiar source from which to develop a large-scale musical, but that’s what George Sidney did back in 1967, at a time when the only musicals still being made were mostly big budget extravaganzas or lacklustre, low-budget Elvis Presley vehicles. The result was Half a Sixpence, a curiously lifeless affair despite a spirited performance from Tommy Steele, who reprised his role from the Broadway play. He’s joined by a rather bland Julia Foster, as the owner of the other half of that titular coin, and a middle-ranking British cast who largely leave the bulk of the singing and dancing to their leading man.
Steele is Arthur Kipps, a shopworker in the early 20th Century who, with some of his fellow workers, sleeps in the cellar of the shop in which he works. It’s a difficult life, but it’s soon transformed when Arthur’s wealthy Grandfather dies and leaves his entire fortune to his Grandson. An annual income of £1,250 — which is around £130,000 in today’s money — should mean his troubles are over, but of course this new-found wealth actually signals the birth of a whole new set of problems, chief of which is Kipps’ ill-advised attempt to integrate himself into polite society. Not only does he make a fool of himself in the face of a refined culture of which he has no knowledge, but he also succeeds in alienating himself from his old friends and his soul-mate, Ann (Foster), with whom he shared two halves of a sixpence as a child.
Although it clearly had grand ambitions, Half a Sixpence turned out to be something of a minor musical, with largely forgettable songs. Only Flash, Bang, Wallop probably still pierces the public consciousness today, and even then only very dimly. Steele does the best he can with this lacklustre material, and is actually very good, somehow managing to overcome the stereotypical constraints of his chirpy Cockney character to create a warm and likeable hero. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is given little or no opportunity to shine, even though it features a host of character actors who will be familiar to those who remember the 1960s and 70s. At 143 minutes, Half a Sixpence certainly has the scale of a musical extravaganza, but sadly it possesses little of the energy and spectacle it needs to bear comparison with the giants of the genre.
(Reviewed 14th May 2014)