DIRECTED BY: Joseph McGrath
FEATURING: Shirley MacLaine, Richard Attenborough, James Booth
PLOT: Mrs. Blossom, the bored wife of an eccentric and oblivious bra manufacturer, hides her lover in the attic.
COMMENTS: Oh joy, a ‘60s European sex comedy! Wait, this can’t be right, where are the boobies? (Checks label.) Oh damn and blast, we brought home a British sex comedy by mistake! That means not even a peep of skin, only coy hints of sex, and a plot that’s rather stingy with the comedy too. Mrs. Blossom is an amusing and light-hearted romp, though, and a quaint period piece for die-hard mondo-60s collectors. Just be advised, even though Shirley MacLaine headlines, her performance here is far from Terms of Endearment caliber—she almost stifles a yawn between lines. As for Attenborough, he does his mutton-chopped best to liven things up a notch. Presumably the paychecks kept the cast in tea and crumpets until they could wend their way to loftier productions.
Meanwhile the sets do most of the acting. Beautifully shot at screwy camera angles in psychedelic Technicolor, the Blossoms’ mansion is decorated like it was intended as a water-colored playhouse for children’s theater, while outside, London has never looked more swinging. McGrath partitions the pedestrian narrative between slices of abrupt, surreal chaos: gauzy garden-swing dream sequences, Three Musketeers homages, a St. George and dragon fantasy. And just when you’re about to give up on the movie, it pulls a John Cleese cameo out of its hip pocket (Cleese was paid by the microsecond to portray an unhelpful postal clerk, and then was gone before he could outshine the rest of the production).
While Mr. Blossom (Attenborough) is a workaholic bra magnate, Mrs. Blossom (MacLaine) is a listless trophy wife and part-time portrait artist. When her sewing machine breaks down, the factory sends ‘round the blandly charming repairman Ambrose Tuttle (James Booth), whom Mrs. Blossom undertakes to seduce—but actually adopts, as one would a stray kitten—over an improbable game of pool. She later hides him in her home’s attic, which is spacious enough to furnish as a second home. There the situation stabilizes for years, while Mr. Blossom remains obliviously cuckolded. He is more fixated on his music fetish—not that he plays music, but he air-conducts on the balcony to prerecorded opera. Meanwhile, a sewing machine repairman’s disappearance is apparently noteworthy enough to attract detectives, investigating in a sputtering sidecar of a subplot.
So far this film doesn’t sound very invigorating, but its saving grace is an air of magical realism that feels like it might have been ad-libbed by the crew on the spot. Scotland Yard detective Dylan (UK acting legend Freddie Jones) turns in a campy performance of dogged investigation while remaining just inches shy of exposing the infidelity. But it’s when we meet Mr. Blossom’s shrink, Dr. Hieronimous Taylor (UK game show host Bob Monkhouse) that we get a real glimpse of weirdness. Dr. Taylor’s office interior set, equipped with piles of vaguely-threatening cyberpunk devices and animated neon pub signs twinkling and spinning in the background, would not look out of place in A Clockwork Orange. Mr. Blossom is seeing a shrink because, you see, he keeps hearing strange noises in his home—due to Ambrose, who is as stealthy as a brass band falling down stairs—and noticing that things keep disappearing, so of course he must be going daft.
While The Bliss of Mrs Blossom isn’t going to top anyone’s weird movie list, the surreal bits and whimsical plot threads accumulate to ultimately charm its way into quirky movie territory. Between the fantasy sequences with a romanticized theme and the gadget-filled psychiatrist’s office, you might be tempted to think Terry Gilliam saw this on his way to making Brazil. You can tell that somebody loved this movie and had ambitions for it that it could not deliver, but it’s so sweet and cheery, even to the end, that you can’t stay disappointed in it. Deep and meaningful cinema this isn’t, but it’s an interesting page in 1960s UK mod film history.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Frankly, the whole film was a mess, a colourful mess but all over the place just the same.. The jokes were mild at best, but in the hope that we wouldn’t notice they were placed in a selection of near-psychedelic visuals… Joseph McGrath worked up a selection of visuals which truly took advantage of the Technicolor, and in opening up the play to downright oddness, this was quite something to behold, if not great at all.”–Graeme Clark, The Spinning Image