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Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr., 1924

A Holiday to Matheran

As we left our holiday cottage, to return home in the city, my wife said, "Look over your shoulder before you leave so that we come back again." Read about our recent trip to Matheran, the forest on the head, and the smallest hill station in India, at B+ve.

October 29, 2012

FILM REVIEW 

'Allo 'Allo! (BBC One, 1982-1992)

For this week’s Overlooked/Forgotten Films and Television over at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom, I have written about the "little-known" British sitcom 'Allo 'Allo! one of the funniest serials I saw in the 1990s.

British sitcoms lack the finesse and the glamour that American serials usually have but they more than make up for it with an abundance of humour, especially dark comedy, and a caboodle of oddball characters and their eccentricities that are quite enjoyable.

’Allo ’Allo! created by producer David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd and broadcast on BBC One from 1982 through 1992 is one such sitcom that looks at the funny side of Nazi occupation of France through the eyes and ears of its rather bizarre characters, albeit with an unmistakeable undertone of reality that isn’t lost on viewers.

René François Artois (Gorden Kaye) is the squint-eyed owner of the town café who manages it with his wife Edith Melba Artois (Carmen Silvera), a cabaret performer, her mother Madame Fanny La Fan (Rose Hill) who lives out of an attic above the inn, and two young waitress, Yvette Carte-Blanche (Vicki Michelle) and Maria Recamier (Francesca Gonshaw), who are both in love with René. There are a few other interesting characters too.

In one of the serial’s many ludicrous moments, Edith often catches René in an awkward embrace with one or the other girl but forgives her husband as soon as he makes a farce of an apology.
 

René (Gorden Kaye) and his wife Edith (Carmen Silvera).

That’s just a small aspect of the serial. Actually, the café, located in a small village, is the hub of secret activity on both sides of World War II, the Nazis and the French resistance, and its a glum-faced René’s job to pretend that he’s on both their sides; of course, they don’t know it, but the truth is that the inn-keeper is the reluctant hero of the French resistance. He even has a codename, Nighthawk.

The only way René can keep his head above water and his café running successfully is by ensuring that both the German officers and the French partisans are happy. It’s not an easy task as the Nazis and a ridiculous looking Gestapo chief on one hand and the French rebels and an Italian captain on the other troop in and out of the restaurant throughout the day. The German officers often catch René up to something but they quickly forget what he’s up to as René charms his way out of the situation. 

René and the waitresses

Like I said earlier ’Allo ’Allo! is full of absurd moments. For instance, the German officers use the inn to hide stolen paintings, often from one another, while the French resistance uses it to hide RAF pilots shot down over France and plan their next move with René who, in reality, wants no part of it. The floorboard under ma-in-law’s bed up in the attic is where the resistance movement hides its radio and despatches secret messages. 

René serves the Germans.

’Allo ’Allo! is a parody of the German occupation of France and the French resistance to the Nazi invasion. In reality, René would have been terrified of both the Nazis and the Partisans and probably buckled under the pressure of staying true to either side. Yet, hundreds and thousands of ordinary citizens in German-occupied Europe must have done exactly what the innkeeper did, fought the invaders with a brave face, a smile on the lips, and some dark humour to boot.

I’m currently watching the reruns on BBC Entertainment and I’m enjoying the serial as much as I did the first time I saw it. Highly recommended.

12 comments:

  1. Amazing choice Prashant, been ages since I saw this though quite right to put 'little known' in quotation marks I think. Certainly in the UK of course it became a national institution and ran for an amazing 10 years on BBC1 (I'm awlays amazed my Dad found it so funny as of course we Italian don't exactly come out of it very well). It was a spoof of the 70s BBC series SECRET ARMY - Have you ever seen that? It is probably remembered a lot less well than the spoof, ironically enough.

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    1. Thanks very much, Sergio. I thought you might have seen this British sitcom. I know a few people who didn't like it as well as some of the other serials coming out of the UK. I read about 'ALLO 'ALLO! being a spoof of SECRET ARMY which I have never seen. Indian television largely showed British sitcoms of the 1980s and onward. I don't recall seeing TV serials prior to that period.

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  2. Indeed. This one gets some play in the US, as well, though I've made little effort to see it, mistaking it (it seems) for something in the same mode as the US sitcom HOGAN'S HEROES...

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    1. Todd, I haven't seen the US sitcom HOGAN'S HEROES though I have a few of the comic-book adaptations from Dell. The only American sitcom I remember watching and enjoying in the early 1980s was M*A*S*H starring Alan Alda, Jamie Farr and Mike Farrell. I thought Alda was the best television actor of that era and I do wonder why his film career didn't take off though I remember seeing him in a few movies including one by Woody Allen, if I'm not mistaken.

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    2. The comparison with HOGAN'S HEROES is actually fairly sound Todd - but then, how many approaches will there be to a weekly minstream sitcom about the Nazis? Hopefully none of the cast of 'ALLO 'ALLO had lives quite as sordid as Bob Crane did ...

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  3. Sounds pretty intersting actually. Attractive waitresses!

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    1. Charles, it's a whacky comedy with some really crazy characters. There's some history behind this serial including a play in the UK. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

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  4. One of those series I have heard about for years--but never seen.

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    1. Patti, the café owner René reminds me of John Cleese's character Basil Fawlty in FAWLTY TOWERS, another hit British sitcom, set in a hotel, of course, under entirely different circumstances. Both serials have lots of farcical characters.

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  5. One of my favorite British comedies is FOOLS AND HORSES. Don't even know if it's ever shown here in the US. Saw it while I lived in the UK 20 years ago. Another comedy which has been available here is AS TIMES GOES BY, though it's not a sitcom.

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    1. Ron, I have heard a lot about the situational comedy ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES though I have never seen it because I don't think it was ever shown on Indian television. AS TIMES GOES BY is new to me, though. I thought of doing a post on all the British sitcoms I'd watched in the 1980s. It requires some amount of research and I might give it a try when I have more time than I do now.

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    2. AS TIME GOES BY stars Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer, about a late middle age couple who are reunited after many years and being married to other people. Clever writing. The East London accents were so strong in FOOLS AND HORSES we had to turn on the closed captions to follow it. Also very well written. Very strong comic characters.

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