“I just had a sudden primitive impulse.”
No Kidding is a fairly lackluster British comedy that examines the success and failure of alternate parenting styles. The film, directed by Gerald Thomas (one of the great names from the Carry On comedy film series) stars Leslie Thomas and Geraldine McEwan as husband and wife, David and Catherine Robinson.
David and Catherine travel to visit Chartham Place–a dilapidated mansion that David has inherited. David believes that there’s no alternative but to sell the place–especially as they are recuperating from David’s prior failed schemes–a nightclub and a chicken ranch. They decide to renovate the house and open it as a “holiday home for the children of the rich.” With the help of a drunken worker, Tandy (Noel Purcell), they repair the house, start advertising and prepare to meet their first young guests.
Predictably, some of the children are obnoxious, spoiled brats while others are lonely and suffering from a lack of attention. There’s a mystery when a young woman arrives who collapsed at the railway station. She’s Vanilla (Julia Lockwood), and she giddily sets her sights on homely handyman Will (Brian Rawlinson).
The Robinsons’ holiday home is under threat by local nasty nosy parker and do-gooder Mrs. Spicer (comedienne Irene Handl). She’s determined to get Chartham Place as a home for underprivileged children, and she sets out to close the place down.
The film’s flimsy premise is built around the Robinsons opposing principles of child rearing. While Catherine pities the children and thinks “Liberty is Freedom,” David thinks his wife’s laissez-faire approach will lead to trouble. He advocates discipline and structure. Catherine’s approach wins the day, and subsequently the children run amok.
Given the cast and the director, I’d expected more from the film. It’s mildly amusing, but that’s as far as it goes. Leslie Thomas is NOT in his element here (he’s marvelous as a wolfish playboy), but as the husband, he stays within the confines of his very narrow, two-dimensional character. Casting Thomas as the disciplinarian does not work.
Basically the film is a waste of talent. Irene Handl does her best, but the other comedy support (Esma Cannon, for example as the batty district nurse) never gets much of a chance to explore humour. The underlying message discipline vs. the burgeoning of 60s freedoms is just too clumsy, and the film feels like a 50s piece that’s struggling to morph into something else.
On another note, there’s something wrong with the picture. About the only way I can explain it is that it looks ‘squeezed.’ This is much more apparent at the beginning of the film, or perhaps I just got used to it. But it’s as if you are looking at a slightly concave screen.