In 1959, director Richard Lester (A Hard Day’s Night) teamed up with members of the British radio program, The Goon Show, to create “The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film” (1959). This groundbreaking, 11-minute short prefigured the madcap form of Monty Python, which, in turn, led to the development of the alternative comedy boom in the 1980’s. A decade later, Lester reunited with members of The Goon Show to adapt The Bed Sitting Room, a stage play co-written by Goon Show creator/performer Spike Milligan, into a feature film starring Milligan himself and fellow Goon, Harry Secombe. MGM’s recent release of The Bed Sitting Room marks the first home video release of the film in North America.
Set in the vast wastelands of post-World War III Britain, this absurdist comedy follows the insane meanderings of the 20 known survivors of the nuclear attack on the U.K. during WWIII. The survivors subsequently find themselves subject to mutations as a result of the residual radiation. These curious transformations result in people turning into a parrot, a cupboard, and even the titular bed sitting room. As an absurdist piece, the film moves aimlessly from one nonsensical situation to the next for an hour and a half with only the faintest hint of a storyline. And then it ends as suddenly and randomly as it began. This is not meant as a criticism of the film, merely as an explanation of the film’s form in lieu of my being wholly unable to relate to you here some sort of brief plot synopsis.
Thoroughly impressive production design characterizes the film throughout. The hazardous, post-apocalyptic settings look like a strategic nightmare from the production end, but serve the setup and humor most effectively. The settings include a mountain of broken china, a church submerged in water, the abandoned London subway system, and a motorway buried under feet of dust resulting in only the uppermost portions of vehicles being visible above ground. Although the material still comes off as being better suited for the stage, in the production design, the film succeeds spectacularly in a way that a stage production could not.
The film features a marvelous cast, a veritable who’s who of British performers in the 1960’s, including the aforementioned Milligan and Secombe, Ralph Richardson (The Wrong Box), Marty Feldman (Young Frankenstein), the comic duo of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (Bedazzled), Roy Kinnear (Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory), Mona Washbourne (My Fair Lady), Arthur Lowe (This Sporting Life), and Richard Warwick (if…).