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Stiff Upper Lips

Starring Peter Ustinov, Prunella Scales,
Georgina Cates, Samuel West, Brian Glover
and Robert Portal
Screenplay by Paul Simpkin & Gary Sinyor
Directed by Gary Sinyor
website: http://www.cowboybi.com

IN SHORT: An almost outrageous parody of period films [Not Rated , 86 minutes]

The point of Stiff Upper Lips, a dead on parody of films made by Merchant Ivory and Miramax, was to take apart the character value of legendary British reserve, to savage the class structure imposed by the royalty and upper class upon the lower (or "scum of the earth") class and, in short, to pop the balloon of overinflated Brit Empire ego. What the producers wanted to do was apply a Zucker Bros. comedy mentality (a la Airplane! or The Naked Gun) to Merchant Ivory period piece dramas to create the kind of Brit humor not seen since the halcyon days of Monty Python's Flying Circus. Would that they had waited a year to make the film, for in that intervening year the Zucker Bros. production deal was terminated, and they could've landed the real thing.

Here's the setup: Facing old maid-hood at the ripe age of 22, young and fair Emily (Georgina Cates) is introduced to the black-suited, Latin-spouting bookworm Cedric Trilling (Robert Portal), a friend of her brother Edward (Samuel West). When sparks fail to fly (and Cedric is such a priss you'll wonder if he would rather be with Edward) the matriarch of the family, Aunt Agnes (Prunella Scales) packs everyone up for a holiday in Italy. Believing that a piece of England should always be with them, they also pack up the lawn and employ local "scum of the earth" handyman George (Sean Pertwee) to lug it, and a multitude of luggage, around.

When he's not packing up the lawn, George is packing up Emily, proving once and for all that the hired help is usually a man's/woman's best friend. This, of course, doesn't make Cedric any more attractive for Emily, so our merry band is off to India, where they guest with Cedric's right-lunatic great uncle Horace (Peter Ustinov). Horace, in turn, introduces Agnes to the joys of extra large bathtubs, probably the funniest jibe on youth oriented period pieces. True, the idea of fat wrinkled bodies doing the prune thing amidst torrents of bubbles may turn your stomach, but it's a very funny bit.

And once Emily starts tossing her cookies at breakfast, well, Cedric may be a priss, but he's of the right class, right?

Stiff Upper Lips, on the whole, is a funny, but not hysterical, take on English period piece movies. It is slow paced; not the three gags a page humor that was the standard in Airplane! Sure, half of the jokes in Airplane! fell flat on their butts, but the audience never had time to think about it before the next zinger came, um, zinging their way. Stiff Upper Lips allows you too much breathing room.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Stiff Upper Lips, he would have paid...

$3.00

Rental level. Samuel West looks so much like the late Graham Chapman of Monty Python that you'll wonder why the film didn't capitalize on that visual connection.


The Cranky Critic® is a Registered Trademark of, and his website is  Copyright © 1995  -  2013 by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.