Domestic Disturbances – Rediscovering ‘Upstairs and Downstairs’ (UK 1959 – 101 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - January 19, 2015
Domestic Disturbances – Rediscovering ‘Upstairs and Downstairs’ (UK 1959 – 101 mins)

Produced during the decline of the once flourishing Rank Organisation, ‘Upstairs and Downstairs’ is a very enjoyable domestic comedy-drama that was passed on by many cinema-goers at the time. Coming along during the ‘Kitchen-Sink’ era of movie-making, the film may have been deemed dated as the ‘British New Wave’ was also just taking off, with more realistic drama’s such as ‘Look Back in Anger’ and ‘Room at the Top’ also released that year.

The simple story follows newlyweds Richard and Kate Barry (Michael Craig and Anne Heywood) as they try to adjust to married life. Much of their newly-found stress comes from their inability to hire the correct live-in help, with their choices ranging from a party-loving minx to a pair of crooked OAP’s. With Kate’s businessman father (James Robertson Justice) trusting the couple to entertain various clients of his, they are desperate to find the right domestic help.

Memorable moments include the sequence where an elderly couple are hired by the Barry’s, only to use their position so that they can tunnel their way into the bank situated next door. Another funny episode has Joan Hickson’s tipsy maid attempting to serve dinner whilst getting increasingly drunk.

As the newlywed Richard, Michael Craig was at his most fashionable around this time and this would also be his busiest period, appearing in hard-hitting features such as ‘Yield to the Night’ (’56), colourful adventures like ‘Campbell’s Kingdom’ (‘57), as well as the popular comedy ‘Doctor in Love’ (‘60). Lead actress Anne Heywood had earlier starred with Stanley Baker in the excellent crime picture ‘Violent Playground’ (’58), and would later star in the intelligent lesbian-themed drama ‘The Fox’ (’67) with Sandy Dennis and Keir Dullea. James Robertson Justice had one of his many authoritative roles here, and was very good as usual. The movie also features a wealth of supporting parts. Claudia Cardinale has an early role as Maria, a sailor-loving maid who’s quickly shown the front door. Cardinale had made an impressive debut the previous year in the Italian crime comedy ‘Big Deal on Madonna Street’ (’58). Mylène Demongeot makes the biggest impression as Ingrid, a beautiful Swedish blonde who unwittingly attracts attention from just about everyone she meets. French starlet Demongeot had earlier co-starred in Otto Preminger’s Riviera drama ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ (’58) and was nominated for a Bafta for her breakthrough role in the powerful French drama ‘The Witches of Salem’ (’58). Future Miss Marple; Joan Hickson, is great fun as a canine-loving alcoholic, and Sid James has a good cameo as a local policeman. Other minor parts and walk-on bits went to Nicholas Parsons, Irene Handl, and future starlets Susan Hampshire, Barbara Steele and Shirley Anne Field.

Director Ralph Thomas also made the enjoyable Kenneth More remake ‘The 39 Steps’ the same year, and directed Dirk Bogarde in a number of features including the popular ‘Doctor’ series of comedies. After making the dire ‘Percy’ (’71) and the even worse sequel ‘Percy’s Progress’ (’74), Thomas later made the excellent David Niven caper ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’ (’79).

‘Upstairs and Downstairs’ is an amusing episodic comedy that, while not breaking any new ground, is a whole lot of fun. With funny sequences and some memorable characters played by a host of familiar faces, fans of the British comedies of yesteryear will find a lot to enjoy here.

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