The Last of the Summer Whine

In a cinematic definition of bad timing, IF IT’S TUESDAY, THIS MUST BE BELGIUM, David L. Wolper’s pleasant, slick romantic comedy, had the misfortune of being released in 1969, quickly disappearing into celluloid oblivion.  Thanks to Olive Films/MGM Studios/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment, it can now be enjoyed via their nifty new Blu-Ray.

The picture, as ably directed by Mel Stuart and scripted by David Shaw (from his story), is a 1960s hybrid of hilarity.  Part of it belongs to the first part of the decade, those Doris Day-Rock Hudson years, unfairly chastised by the young post-Graduate moviegoers of the Sixties’ latter half.  The other, the core male-female relationship, is fairly “mod” and adult, definitely smacking of the influence of Blow-Up, Alfie and other Brit hits.  It’s not as uneasy an alliance as it sounds; in fact, it’s quite fetching and worth a peek.

The movie, as the title implies, is a chronicle of one of those frenzied fast-food European bus treks that sound as lousy and stressful as they likely were.  Commencing in the UK and sprawling across the Continent through France, Germany and Italy, it was a number-cruncher’s dream and a serious vacationer’s nightmare.  The affable guide is dandy dude Ian McShane, who not only has a girl in every port, but sometimes two or three.  He’s a likeable, nonetheless womanizing, cad.  This time about, he doesn’t even have to leave his bus, as he has his Carnaby Street cap set for Yank Suzanne Pleshette, a thoroughly modern Millie, 1969-style (gone are her beehives and bouffants, she’s tripped out in the ironing-the-hair mode that offered an option to the Sassoon Rosemary’s Baby look).  Pleshette’s character is the most admirable in the pic, a smart, savvy career woman who’s taking this jaunt to decide on whether or not she wants to settle down with a total (but adoring) stuffed shirt.  In keeping with the times, she’s not sure about chucking the career for parenthood, but definitely is curious about signing up for the sexual revolution.  McShane can spot a mark when he sees one, and vigorously pursues her through each and every country, and charmingly so (including a busker song and dance).  The conquest comes (no pun) and the two bask (or busk) in the myriad of stunning on-location backdrops (it’s Rome Adventure with penetration).  But Pleshette, as we indicated, is smart enough to know a fling when it’s flung, and happily experienced, merrily returns to her career and searching for true love (with possible sidebar shagging).  It’s McShane who for the first time is taken aback, as he’s found the love of his life, and does the unthinkable:  proposes marriage.  Pleshette is touched and tempted, but wise enough to know he’ll cheat the next time he sets foot on the following bus tour (which is true).

That said, it’s the Greek chorus of IF IT’S TUESDAY that, for the flick’s growing fanbase, makes the movie. It’s a bus load of ugly Americans, a veritable 1960s movie/TV character actor heaven.  And quite funny, too – dealing with such crucial holiday thorns as toilet paper, questionable food, time management and that old tourism bugaboo – being taken for a ride.  To hammer this point home, the tour’s boors encompass the likes of Murray Hamilton, Norman Fell, Peggy Cass, Michael Constantine, Pamela Britton, Sandy Baron, Reva Rose, Mildred Natwick, Marty Ingles and a host of annoying others.  Some of the genuinely laugh-out-loud moments include Fell’s spouse Rose boarding the wrong bus in a parking lot and ending up with a Japanese contingent; Hamilton, craving a pair of handmade Italian shoes, bartering with wily sole-man Vittorio di Sica (Hamilton’s grasp of the language essentially comprises doing a Chico Marx impression loudly); Baron’s visiting seemingly “Sicilian Clan” relatives who have conspired to marry the American to one of their own (his proudly shared latrine escape backfires in a climatic serves-you-right way); Constantine retracing his finest moment (World War II) to Britton while a German tour couple (Peter Esser, Suzy Falk) concurrently do the same; and Ingles, horndog extraordinaire, snapping photos of Euro hotties to deceptively send back to his U.S. pals as nailed foreign goods (deservedly getting the shit slapped out of him when caught; he subsequently pays the ladies to pose, culminating in an impulsively and surprising sweet moment.  In a mercifully brief ancillary running narrative, teen Hilary Thompson and ex-pat hippie Luke Halpin continually bump into each other accidentally on purpose (it’s like the anti-Christ depiction of Hitchcock’s film theory:  a movie with life’s boring parts stuck in).  Non-tourist delights include Patricia Routledge and famed Hammer cutie Yutte Strensgaard.  A creepy performance by Aubrey Morris as an obsessive souvenir hunter is vindicated by a sight gag fade-out that would have delighted Frank Tashlin.

Producer Wolper stacked the deck by not only offering recognizable punims and actual settings, but an array of cameos by an international edition of Actor’s Equity.  Some of Ingles’ “babes” are the current Germany, Belgium and Holland Miss Universe contestants.  And between him, Baron, and McShane are such feminine lovelies as Joan Collins, Virna Lisi, Elsa Martinelli, Marina Berti, Senta Berger, Catherine Spaak, and in one side-splitting sequence, Anita Ekberg (twisting and twerking in a nightclub with Fell).  Male guest stars include John Cassavetes and Ben Gazzara; best of all is a take-no-prisoners Italian photographer, enacted with great comedic panache by Robert Vaughn (no doubt Gazzara and Vaughn were recruited by Wolper, who was simultaneously producing the excellent war drama Bridge at Remagen).

IF IT’S TUESDAY was shot in DeLuxe Color by Vilis Lapenieks.  It’s a pretty good job, but one wonders what the zoom-laden and the occasionally grainy optical work would have looked like a mere three or four years earlier with prime lenses and Technicolor.  The music by Walter Scharf is in perfect unison with the onscreen shenanigans, even with the rock ballad (written and performed by Donovan, who also makes a cameo as a strolling hippie troubadour, the one instance that made me want to throw something at the monitor).  All in all, it’s a spiffy Blu-Ray, looking much better than I remember it when I originally the comedy in 1969.

Tongue-twistingly, a wacky trapped tourist tourist trap, IF IT’S TUESDAY, IT MUST BE BELGIUM is one of those pictures with a Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation conclusion that would ONLY have worked with bitching, carping, complaining Americans.  As such, it’s an endearing part of my Boomer existence.

IF IT’S TUESDAY, THIS MUST BE BELGIUM.  Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA.  Olive Films/MGM Studios/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment.  CAT # OF1223.  SRP: $29.95.

ifitstuesday_cover

 

 

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