DVD Note:
Medi-Date at the Veni Villas
18 September 2018

¶ “What we need,” I said, “is a little fun. How about Blame It On the Bellboy?” “Great idea!” said Kathleen. 

Actually, we neither of us said any such thing. We’ve been married for nearly thirty-seven years, and what we did say would probably be unintelligible, or, even worse, silly and odd. But I did suggest watching Mark Herman’s farce, and Kathleen readily agreed. At least one of us tried to imitate Penelope Wilton saying “Rubbish” in a north-country accent.

Kathleen claims that we saw Blame It On the Bellboy in the theatre. I don’t think so. I can’t believe that it had a wide theatrical release in the States; only two of the stars, Dudley Moore and Brian Brown, were known over here at the time (and I’m not so sure about Brown). Well, then there’s Bronson Pinchot, whom we had never heard of — an SNL alum, apparently. But I rarely run into people who have seen this very funny film, or even heard of it. It’s a totally British lark. Even the gangsters and the hotel manager are played by actors born on the other side of the English Channel from Venice. If not, as in Andreas Katsulas’s case, the other side of the Atlantic. Part of the farce right there. 

Blame It On the Bellboy is a mistaken-identity extravaganza in which a hit man, a would-be Romeo, and a corporate gofer are all given the wrong envelope when they check into the Hotel Gabrielli — a real place, but by no means to be confused with the Danieli. An incompetent bellboy (Pinchot) is responsible for all the mixups, but the mercy of the film is that we don’t see too much of him. Dudley Moore, who is supposed to scope out a villa for his monstrous boss, shows up at the residence of the hitman’s target, where he, or someone like him, is unfortunately expected. Richard Griffiths, looking for love via an outfit called “Medi-Date,” hooks up instead with the divinely blonde Patsy Kinset, an agent for Veni Villas, a fast-buck developer whose structures quake when planes fly overhead. (Perhaps Mr O’Reilly from Fawlty Towers is the architect.) Brian Brown’s envelope contains a photograph of a sweetly smiling Penelope Wilton. He has never shot a woman before. The ensuing three plot-lines interrupt each other with exhilarating frequency. 

The gangsters don’t believe Dudley Moore when he insists that there has been a mistake; they produce instruments of torture and a suitcase bomb instead. Penelope Wilton notices that Brian Brown is following her around, captures his heart, and becomes his willing accessory in the attempt to recoup — but don’t ask. The important thing is that she discovers his shy, sweet side, and when she isn’t bucking him up with a cuppa homebrewed wisdom, she’s impersonating Ma Barker. (Brian Brown genially sends up his trademark strong, silent type.) As for Richard Griffiths and Patsy Kinset, their misunderstanding, rich as a fruitcake in saucy double-entendres, goes on for a preposterous amount of time, and is only cleared up by the surprise appearance of Alison Steadman, as Griffiths’s wife. Kinset plays this development for all it’s worth, effectively blackmailing Griffiths into paying £100,000 for a house he doesn’t want. “Oh Maurice, what a surpro-eeze!” squeals Steadman. It might be worth noting that Kinset is motivated by a saxophone and a speedboat.    

The dénouement is fast and fizzy. For the first time, all the characters are in the same scene. Hapless Dudley Moore can’t get the bomb’s remote to work until shortly after two of the goons realize that they both switched the tags on the suitcases. Their mistake means that Brian Brown gets a bonus.

Two favorite lines that mean nothing out of context: “Are you deaf as well as debauched?” and “Check it out, sister!”

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