This is one of four films in which Christopher Lee plays a spoof version of his own performances as Dracula. The others are Tempi Duri per i Vampiri
(1959), Dracula père et fils
(1976) and One More Time
(1970), which I haven't seen.
It's a comedy (obviously), in which the main characters are played by Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr. I must say I'm no fan of Peter Sellers. Dr. Strangelove
and Being There
are both very good films, but mainly because both are dark political satires. In my experience, the more straightforwardly 'funny' Sellers thinks he's trying to be, the less I want to watch him.
This one is surreal and experimental, in a way that could only really have come out of the late 1960s. It's perhaps all too easy to label it 'proto-Monty Python', given that it literally has both John Cleese and Graham Chapman in it, very shortly before the first series of actual Monty Python aired, but it does feature a lot of their sort of humour. Examples include the helicopter pilot called Pontius, a scene in which the central characters go to the theatre to see Hamlet
, and the person in the title role starts doing a strip tease complete with raunchy music and neon signs during the 'To be or not to be' soliloquy scene, and an escalating absurdity gag in which they go out with rifles to shoot game birds, but quickly upgrade to machine guns, rocket launchers and tanks.
It has a central plot, in which Peter Sellers' character, Sir Guy Grand, adopts Ringo Starr's, who begins the film as a homeless person sleeping in the park, but is given the name Youngman Grand by his new adoptive father. Guy Grand is so immensely rich that he can basically do whatever he likes, and his main interest seems to be performing experiments to explore the effect of money on other people. As he puts it, everyone has their price. So he goes round bribing a parking inspector £500 to literally eat his own ticket, offering an art dealer £30,000 for a (possible) Rembrandt before cutting it up in front of his eyes, bribing a team of Oxford dark blues to turn the Boat Race into a fight, and scattering fresh bank-notes into a vat of blood, urine and faeces adorned with a sign saying 'FREE MONEY HERE' and then standing back to watch as a lot of City types with bowler hats and umbrellas wade in to retrieve them.
But these episodes are exactly that - episodic. Where many another film about a person from the top of the social hierarchy adopting someone from the bottom would concentrate closely on those characters, developing them and showing us scenes in which they at first clashed or failed to understand one another, but then eventually reached a common ground and were reconciled, there is nothing of that here. Indeed, you don't even hear the dialogue in the initial scene when Guy goes up and introduces himself to Youngman in the park - just see it from a distance. After that, the adoption is simply a done deal, and Youngman follows Guy around the place as he requires, not doing much other than observing and saying 'Yes, Dad' as a lot of strange things happen to them.
Quite a bit of the humour reflects the era's growing awareness of sexual and ethnic minorities, in ways that generally side against the 'squares' who aren't au fait with such matters, but not necessarily with
the minorities in question. At one point, two boxers all squared up for a big macho fight in front of the TV cameras surprise everyone by kissing instead of punching each other (not that we see it directly), whereupon the commentator observes: "The crowd seem to be sickened by the sight of no blood." Later, Yul Brynner as a transvestite cabaret artist delivers a sultry performance of 'Mad About the Boy' which culminates in him lifting off his blonde wig to the horror of a hitherto-entranced patron. And a passenger on the cruise ship from which the film takes its title is heard making reactionary racist remarks shortly before discovering that the evening's entertainment is a pair of Mr Universe body-builders, one Afro-Caribbean and one Causcasian, who strut their stuff to a song about 'Black and White', and are later seen dancing together at the ship's disco.
As for Christopher Lee, he's one of many, many star cameos in the film, some others of which I've already referenced above. He initially appears on the cruise ship dressed in a smart ship's waiter's uniform, delivering a tray of drinks to a female passenger, and I suppose the original audience would have assumed at first that he was no more than that. But the surprise twist is so utterly blown now that it's the very reason I watched this film - in fact, he turns out to be a vampire, who first bares his teeth and bends over the woman to help himself to a drink of his own, before striding down the corridor, cloak billowing, to follow up with a chaser of the captain. The corridor scene in particular is very effectively shot with a backwards-tracking camera in slightly slow motion, and in some ways perhaps captures the essence of his Dracula performances better by dint of being an overblown parody than Hammer could ever quite
manage when presenting him seriously. He and Hammer were absolutely at the apogee of them at this point, churning out an average of roughly one a year, and the cameo must have felt like quite the snapshot of the contemporary zeitgeist.
But it's all over in a few seconds, though it is quite crucial to the plot, as it's also the cue for everything in the ship to descend into total chaos and anarchy. Soon afterwards, it turns out never to have left the dock at all, but to have been shut up in a warehouse in central London all along, while its passengers underwent a fake cruising experience. Guy Grand's group barely notices.
There's a sort of charm to the movie as a whole, but probably not the same charm its original viewers were expected to feel. The Beatles' 'Come And Get It' is the centrepiece of the soundtrack, usually played straightforwardly, but sometimes picked up by e.g. a marching band for a bit of variation. For a song which I'm pretty sure was meant to sound full of youthful spirit and joie de vivre, it somehow comes across as sad and wistful in this movie, much as I often find is also the case with Hanoi Rocks songs (none of which I ever heard until well after Razzle had already died in Vince Neil's car). It's all very obviously a relic of a bygone age.
Anyway, for those who might like to see Christopher Lee's scenes, but can't be bothered with the whole movie, if you have a FB account they are all included in this video of the climactic scenes on the cruise ship
. Indeed, if you don't even want to sit through 7 minutes and 22 seconds just for about 30 seconds of Christopher Lee (however good those 30 seconds might be), his bits start at 02:52 and 04:48. Enjoy!
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