Network have released for the first time on Blu-ray the hit 1960s comedy The Fast Lady. The 1962 film stars Stanley Baxter, Julie Christie, Leslie Phillips and James Robertson Justice. Network present this classic in its original theatrical aspect ratio for the first time, taken from a brand new high definition restoration.
Julie Christie, in one of her earliest film roles, is pompous Charles Chingford’s (Justice) daughter, Claire. She and welcomes ardent cyclist Murdoch Troon (Baxter) when he comes to demand reparation from her father for running him off the road with his Rolls Royce.
We have learnt in opening scenes that Murdoch is rather a hapless but determined civil servant. He lodges in the same house as crafty womaniser Freddie Fox (Phillips). Freddie is a used car salesman who brings home a different car and a different girl every night.
When she gives Murdoch a lift home, Claire is unaffected by Freddie’s charm, but instead impressed by his latest vehicle for sale: a 1927 Bentley: she is a car enthusiast. Following Claire’s suggestion that he learn to drive, he is goaded and encouraged by Freddie. Murdoch hot-headedly buys the Bentley; named The Fast Lady and believed to have once been in a famous race.
Murdoch is visited by fantasy in a dream: he is driving The Fast Lady in a Grand Prix type race with modern cars and historical romance. When he wakes, he finds the reality somewhat less exciting and more alarming. He must now learn to drive The Fast Lady or risk disappointing Claire.
Naturally, Mr Chingford disapproves of Murdoch altogether. When he challenges him to a timed drive, intended to show Murdoch up as unsuitable company for his daughter, disaster ensues. When Murdoch issues a counter-challenge, with the intention that Chingford will have to back down if he fails, the experienced racing driver takes the bet. But he concedes when equal misfortune befalls his timed run home.
When the day comes for his driving test, Murdoch is put through his paces by a very exacting examiner. But before he can be failed, a policeman orders Murdoch to chase after an escaping band of bank robbers.
This is where the film builds to its almost farcical climactic scenes. The finale is rather fine, with the obligatory scenes of chasing through the town and countryside. Here we get a stream of famous faces in cameos. Clive Dunn in his typical old man role jumping from a burning building; Frankie Howerd as a sewage worker forced to take refuge down a manhole; and Bernard Cribbins as a patient being stretchered into an ambulance are a few you may spot.
The mood of the film is that of an early sixties romantic comedy, with that touch of farce. In the end, the scale tips further towards comedy than romance. However, with a cast so strong in comedy, this is both expected and welcome.
Now to come to the release itself. The brand new transfer looks stunning. The colours are so vibrant and fresh; the picture is so clear. Watching this Blu-ray is like seeing the film on the big screen for the first time. Even the included theatrical trailer appears to have been newly restored in wide screen. The only thing that ages this film slightly is the audio: as was typical for films of this era, most of the dialogue appears to have been replaced later in the studio using ADR. However, this film is probably the best example I have seen of this: it is done seamlessly so that the audial and visual experience is in total harmony.
There is little to dislike here, with James Robertson Justice as blustery as ever and Leslie Phillips in a less creepy, more balanced version of his usual type. There is sympathy and some depth in his performance, which he wasn’t always allowed to explore in such roles. Perhaps slightly unsatisfying is the less developed and more stereotyped Scottish character, Murdoch. However, Baxter plays it with sincerity and a certain appeal.
This film is pure enjoyment. Predictable and safe it may be. But there is so much charm and good humour. It is a fine example of the British cinematic comedy of the day. It stands the test of time, with the new high definition transfer making sure it looks wonderful. The Fast Lady is a film that leaves you wanting more. This is a feel-good, easy-going comedy with investable characters. The premise makes you smile, as does the execution.
We here at Old Time Review enjoyed it so much that we are thoroughly looking forward to reviewing the follow-up to The Fast Lady, which is also available from Network.
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The Fast Lady is available now on Blu-ray from Network.