Sunday, 10 February 2013

Romance With A Double Bass (1974)

Romance With A Double Bass is an utterly delightful short feature (running at just under 40 mins) starring John Cleese and his then wife, Connie Both. It is adapted, by Cleese, from one of the wealth of light short stories and novellas by the renowned Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, many of which were recently adapted for television on Sky Arts as Chekhov Comedy Shorts - worth a watch by the way, especially the one featuring another husband and wife comedy team; Julian Barratt and Julia Davis.

In penning the adaptation, Cleese ensures he gets to play to his physical comedic strengths but it's also really enjoyable to see him play what is essentially a light romantic comedy leading man a good fourteen years before the wonderful A Fish Called Wanda. It makes a refreshing change to see Cleese in something so frothy and engaging and not in ranting mode, even though I enjoy that side of his comic personality as much as the next person. 

The story may appear slight and farcical but I think Chekhov is still saying a lot about the class system. It is only by a cruel prankish twist of fate, when a thief steals the clothes of both Cleese's musician and Booth's Princess whilst they were both bathing in the same stream, that the pair can meet. The nakedness is a metaphor for their place and standing being stripped away. They are equal in the eyes of God and how he made them and it is their that a relationship, tenuous and awkward naturally at first, can start as he endeavours to get them both back to the palace in time for the concert she is to attend and he is to play at. 

Like an adult fairy tale, by the film's conclusion both characters are wholly aware of their feelings for one another and flee the concert to play their music together in the grounds, naked once more albeit him in her tiara and her in his hat. It is left to the viewer to decide whether their love can progress or whether it is just a brief moment.

As with all short features one feels the budget was relatively small on this, but they make excellent use of great location work at a stately home and the surrounding environs and it is all extremely well shot with a nice summery dappled air to the cinematography. There is also an impressive supporting cast including a hangdog Freddie Jones, a constantly bemused Jonathan Lynn (later to write Yes Minister), Graham Crowden, June Whitfield and even Cleese and Booth's future Fawlty Towers co-star Andrew Sachs.

It's rarely shown, if at all, on TV and that's a great shame. If I had my way I'd have it on every year. I'm not even sure it could be the nudity that poses a problem for the networks. Yes, there is obviously nudity - we see virtually everything Connie Booth has got, and Cleese's backside - but this is in no way a sex comedy. It's just a wonderfully charming innocent romantic tale, that just happens to be about a pair without clothing.

Ultimately though what shines through is the obvious love between the real life couple of Cleese and Booth at that time, making this a very sweet movie to experience. It's just a really nice, amusing watch.

1 comment:

  1. I came across this whilst looking for a double bass. Interesting and thank you.