The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins (1971)
The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins (1971)
Director: Graham Stark
Cast: Felicity Devonshire, Bruce Forsyth, Paul Whitsun-Jones
Synopsis: Seven short stories based on the Seven Deadly Sins.
As with all anthology movies, The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins is something of a mixed bag, despite boasting a Who’s Who of early 1970s British comedy actors and the writing talents of some of the country’s finest comic writers. As it’s title suggests, each of the seven stories fashion a comic situation out of one of the seven deadly sins, topics which, by their very nature, should provide a rich source of material. But, while the quality of a couple of the stories is respectable enough, overall the result is largely disappointing.
First up is Avarice, in which popular TV entertainer Bruce Forsyth plays the chauffeur of a money-grabbing businessman (Paul Whitsun-Jones) who demands that his hapless employee retrieves a 50p piece from the sewer into which it has fallen. It’s a fairly ordinary sketch, but is worth watching for its location photography and Forsyth is actually quite good, leaving one to wonder why he made only five movies in a career spanning seven decades. Carry On regulars Joan Sims (Carry On Abroad, Carry On Regardless) and Bernard Bresslaw (Carry On Abroad), and TV comedian Roy Hudd make brief appearances.
In what would probably be seen as the most politically-incorrect story in a film that is full of them, Greed sees Harry Secombe (The Bed Sitting Room) being bullied by his wife (Carmel Cryan) into going to ever-greater lengths to try and persuade the owners of a large country home (Geoffrey Bayldon – Greyfriars Bobby – and June Whitfield – Carry On Abroad) into selling it. The tactics employed by Secombe’s character, whose wimpishness in the face of his wife’s bullying is simply exasperating, include offering £40,000 cash (which wouldn’t buy him a cupboard under the stairs these days), falsely claiming that the house is directly under the flight path of a proposed new airport and, most contentiously, wearing blackface and playing loud reggae music in the hope that the couple will be driven from their home by the prospect of living next to an Afro-Caribbean. Greed isn’t quite the weakest of the stories, but it’s in the bottom two.
The wooden spoon is claimed by Gluttony, undoubtedly the weakest – and most pointless – of the collection, despite benefitting from the presence of the wonderful Leslie Phillips (I Was Monty’s Double, Crooks Anonymous). He plays an executive for a health food company that operates a strict policy regarding its employees’ eating habits whose weakness for unhealthy snacks results in a health scare just as he receives a dinner invitation from the company’s sexy vice-president (Julie Ege), who shares his covert taste for rich foods. Gluttony relies entirely on Phillips’ personality for its laughs, but even he is unable to salvage anything from such feeble material. Although it’s no longer than any of the other segments, Gluttony seems to go on forever and has an extremely weak pay-off.
Things improve somewhat with Lust, a story from pop-eyed comedian Marty Feldman which contains a degree of pathos lacking from its companions, in which Harry H. Corbett plays a minor variation on his famously unlucky-in-love Harold Steptoe from the hit TV series Steptoe and Son. Desperate for a girlfriend, he unaccountably chooses a London underground station as his pick-up point, but learns an unwelcome lesson about himself just when he believes he has finally got lucky. Despite coming across as more than a little seedy, Corbett’s character nevertheless gains our sympathy, and the story’s final shot is close to heartbreaking.
Pride is written by Galton and Simpson, the team behind Steptoe and Son, and proves to be the best of the bunch as it crystallises the British class war in the confrontation between a Rolls Royce-driving member of the upper class (Ian Carmichael) and a working class man (Alfie Bass – I Was Monty’s Double, Alfie) in an ancient old banger on a narrow country road. Neither man is willing to give way to let the other pass, and the situation is only intensified when representatives of their respective roadside assistance organisations (which, back then, also had class connotations) turn up. Galton and Simpson’s tale is full of ideas and has a heavily ironic – but sublimely appropriate – punchline.
Sloth, as you’d expect from a tale by Spike Milligan (Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall, Life of Brian), is unlike any other story in The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins, and not only because it is shot in the style of a silent comedy. Flavoured with Milligan’s customary surreal touch, Sloth doesn’t tell a story so much as present a series of unrelated sketches – all of which involve characters too lazy to do the sensible thing, and walnuts. How successful you find Sloth will largely depend on whether you’re a fan of Milligan’s anarchic brand of humour, but it is undeniably the most original and unique of the seven segments. Familiar faces amongst the cast of this entry include Ronnie Barker, Peter Butterworth, Marty Feldman (The Bed Sitting Room, Young Frankenstein) and Cardew Robinson (Crooks Anonymous, Alfie).
The final story is Wrath, in which Ronald Fraser (The Bed Sitting Room) and Arthur Howard play a pair of elderly gentlemen who find themselves at odds with the despotic groundskeeper of the park in which they like to meet and feed the ducks. The groundskeeper is played by Stephen Lewis (Mutiny on the Buses), familiar to most people over a certain age as Blakey from the 1960s TV show On the Buses, and he more-or-less plays the same character here, even down to the black mac and peaked cap uniform with which Lewis is associated. Sadly, Wrath is a rather weak story with which to close.
The Magnificent Deadly Sins is very much a film of its time, and as such is destined to be overlooked by future generations, particularly as moments like Harry Secombe’s blackface are no longer considered acceptable. Sad to say, with one notable exception, the loss is not a great one. Perhaps one of the most satisfying aspects of The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins is the fact that, financially speaking, the most successful performer we see is not one of the great and good of British comedy, but the comely young lady we see divesting herself of her garments in the opening credits. Her name is Felicity ‘Fluff’ Devonshire. She was a Page Three girl whose screen career never really amounted to much and who found a more rewarding career in property investments. In 2008, her personal wealth was valued at £40 million.
(Reviewed 22nd March 2016)