A roll-call of British eccentricity, and the first bus of the list.


Smashing Time
Just in time to salvage the increasingly deteriorating mood of this list, here's a resolutely swinging tale of how the sixties manifestly weren't. The none-more-sixties dynamic duo of Rita Tushingham and Lynn Redgrave cut a manic dash through a satirical exaggeration of hip London via a tempting blend of quickfire gags and speeded-up slapstick, all brought to the boil by no less a writer than monocular jazz surrealist George Melly. Fab!
Harold and Maude
There aren’t many films about young men conducting affairs with old women - well, not at least until they make the Demi Moore story - but here’s one starring little Bud Court as Harold and the great Ruth Gordon as Maude. Harold is obsessed with death and funerals and that leads him to Maude in what is really an exercise in bad taste excused by the fact that it’s funny as well. And just for good measure there’s Cyril ‘Juggernaut’ Cusack an’ all.
Sir Henry At Rawlinson End
Practically everything the genteelly unhinged Vivian Stanshall did lends itself to untold repeated scrutiny - we only just noticed the other day how his early '90s Ruddles Real Ale adverts contain a bizarre homage to Purple Haze - and nothing of his is more dense and packed with detail than the decrepit pile and inhabitants of Rawlinson End. Translated from the LP monologues and Peel Sessions, but crucially not losing the bite of the original riotous routines, the sepia-tinted world of musty armour, itinerant staff and gin-senile gentry is there in all its incontinent majesty, with Trevor Howard topping off a fine cast as lord of the manor. The plot, such as it is, involves Patrick Magee's attempted exorcism of the trouserless ghost of Henry's invisible toy dog-walking brother (played by Stanshall), but that's almost a formality amongst the dovetailing vignettes of Harry Fowler's spying spiv, Denise Coffey's tapeworm advice, Sir H's personal PoW camp, etc. etc. If it has a failing, it's that there's too much going on - as soon as one gag has unfolded, it's superceded by another one as the script gets seemingly bored with itself. Not that the audience is in danger of following suit - it takes an effort to keep up with the pace of invention. But it's well worth it. Stanshall's wistful theme song, The Cracks Are Showing, is a corker, too.
British horror has a wholly unfair reputation for formulaic lack of imagination - endless permutations and "Sons of" of Dracula and Frankenstein, reincarnated as women, in modern dress, in New York, etc. One look at this fantastic film should be enough to shut the detractors up. A Victorian tube construction site suffers a catastrophic roof fall, leaving a whole swathe of people trapped in a sealed-off chamber. Somehow they survive by resorting to cannibalism, until, in the present day, the last living cave-dweller is forced out to pick on unsuspecting Russell Square commuters. It's more than a killer-on-the-loose flick, however, as the cannibal is actually shown, in bizarrely tender cave scenes, tending to his dying wife. Add the trad Brit character cast - Donald Pleasance, Christopher Lee, Norman 'Simon Simon' Rossington - and you've got a film that couldn't be made anywhere else, or indeed at any other time. As ever, an all-electronic soundtrack (entirely recorded in one day, job-of-work fans!) adds to the menace. "Mind the doors!"
It doesn't have much in the way of penetrating insights into religion, but this frantic Frayn/Cleese race across East Anglia is as good a transposition of farce to the silver screen as we've ever seen. The pace is kept just taut enough throughout (something A Fish Called Wanda never managed) and the roll-call of British character actors is dished out liberally without ever turning into an "ooh look, it's him off of Kinvig!" distraction, most notably Geoffrey Palmer, Penelope Wilton and Stephen Moore.
The Big Bus
We'll take Messrs. Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker as read here, because this unfairly maligned Airplane!-on-wheels is, to our mind, every bit as much fun as the quickfire Neilsen-reviver, and in fact pre-dates it by several years. Top stuff it is, too - from the opening nuclear rod gag, Larry Hagman's car park cameo, and the triumphant unveiling of the bus itself, complete with swimming pool and perma-grinning cocktail pianist, to the inevitable Stockard-Channing-in-beverage-related-jeopardy ending. This, the first Airplane! and Police Squad (and bits of Top Secret) are the peak of the quickfire goofball genre - shame about the hundred-odd mediocre films that followed, eh?
Who'd have thought we'd see two entries in this top 100 featuring Mick Jagger? Sadly Freejack failed to make the "bubbling under" list, so we'll have to make do with this vintage piece of Ladbroke Grove gangster psychedelia instead. Dapper hitman Edward Fox, who was never quite the same after this, holes up a bohemian pad with Jagger's - rather Jagger-like - rock star, Anita Pallenberg, a big bag of drugs and a couple of strip lights, for a disjointed, ego-mangling end-of-sixties love-in. Plenty of controversy abounds - fanboys argued the toss over which of the film's two directors was responsible for what, and moral guardians tut-tutted over the murkiness of the bathwater. Granted, the "hard" rock 'n' roll posturing with assorted Kray contemporaries doesn't look too convincing these days, but it's just one part of a sprawling mess that cranks up and discards ideas, scenes and bits of business at will, and, with the obligatory enigmatic ending, emerges all the better for it. Plus it features possibly the best musical set-piece in any film ever, when Jagger's slick-haired alter ego performs the best Stones song that never was, Memo From Turner, to a bunch of stripping gangsters in a Francis Bacon-style office situated inside Fox's inner ear. Or something. "It was Mad Cyril!"
This Is Spinal Tap
“The dial goes up to 11!” Marti Di Bergi, sorry, Brian De Palma’s seminal spoof rockumentary has been seen so much, and quoted so often that it’s impact has been lessened more than a little. But it’s worth remembering just how important, and more importantly how funny, it really was. The complaints about the comparative sizes of salami and bread, the dimensions of an on-stage Stonehenge and the involvement of Christopher Guest’s girlfriend in the break up of the band are brilliant moments in the progress of the band and its promotional tour of their new album, Smell the Glove under the eye of their record company boss, Sir Denis Eton-Hogg, played by Patrick Macnee. Music stars are still just as flamboyantly idiotic these days and Spinal Tap remains just as relevant as it was in 1984 when it was released and the film remains the model for every spoof reality project since. “It says feet, not inches!”
Brighton Rock
Sir Lord Richard of Attenborough’s second leading part in the list - and it’s another belter - as Pinky the psychotic racetrack gangster in Graham Greene’s pitch black and convoluted story adapted from his own novel. The film is less complicated, perhaps because of the input of Terence Rattigan into the script, but enough of a twist is left in the ending to still create surprise especially as we have been looking away all through the proceedings transfixed by Attenborough’s monstrous turn.
The Wicked Lady
As parodied in the Blackadder 3rd episode, Amy and Amiability, where Miranda Richardson is the highwaywoman, this 1940s film starring the gorgeous Margaret Lockwood, plays with the themes of good and evil to grotesque proportions. But it's such a ripping good yarn, and will appeal to every good girl's darker side. James Mason is delectable as Lockwood's mentor, the ravishingly patronising Captain Jerry 'Until our next merry meeting - in hell!' Jackson, humouring his little missy all the way to the gallows.

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