Film Reviews, January 1969
United Artists Corporation’s “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”
Genuine lovers of the older motor cars need feel no disappointment if they do not have a chance to see this film. It is pure fantasy, having not the remotest connection with Brooklands or motor racing. Albert Broccoli has based the film on Ian Fleming’s children’s books, which were such a surprising contrast to his James Bond thrillers. Why Fleming stole a name for these books belonging to the late Count Zborowski and the 1921 era of motor-racing remains a mystery, particularly as the name derived, I understand, from something singularly inappropriate to both children’s fairy tales and the theme-song of a lighthearted film!
True, a few fake motor racing shots open the film. They cover such improbabilities as the “1909 British Grand Prix”, are over-obsessed with accidents, and the real cars which took part—Barker’s steaming 1908 Napier, Goddard’s 1911/12 mudguard Cottin-Desgouttes, FitzPatrick’s Maybach-Metallurgique, etc.—are not all that easily recognised, being on screen only very briefly, So far as the rest of the film is concerned, one wonders why a Panhard-Levassor tourer figures in a “Vulgarian” castle? (Did its owner ask for the wooden frame to be put round its screen, to protect it from clinging actors? If so I congratulate him!)
I may be accused of condemning this film because of the paucity of motor racing. I can only remark that films into which many famous comedians are crammed seem to me to lack real acting—the comics are known for their individual gimmicks and these, and not original acting, tend to be applauded by their followers. It was so with “Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines”; it is worse in “Chitty”. Dick Van Dyke smiles (continually) and accepts his funny Ford’s improbable antics almost without question. Lionel Jeffries contorts. Benny Hill smirks. James Robertson-Justice (an ex-racing motorist) is himself. Each has done these things before and done them better, on TV. As for Sally Ann Howes as “Truly Scrumptious”, she is seen throughout in long Edwardian dresses and was, perhaps, wrongly cast. Her face is too hard as a mate for innocent Dick and I was not enamoured of them when we saw occasional glimpses of her ankles, although this may have been because I sat too close to the Astoria’s wide screen. I would prefer to see Bill Mason’s “Heroic Age” any day. Incidentally, I was surprised that in spite of modern filming techniques, the wheels of Miss Scrumptious’ replica 1909 Humber revolve backwards as it crosses the screen in Super Panavision Technicolor.—W. B.
Every winter Castrol release motoring and motorcycling films for the use of clubs, and their film, “Flying Finns”, made for them by Stronghold Films Ltd., is a classic. It covers the Finnish Rally of the Thousand Lakes and puts over rallying in such a way that even circuit racing die-hards were impressed. Definitely a film to see. Details from: Castrol Film Department, Castrol House, Marylebone Road, London, N.W.1 —D. S. J.