The Bed Sitting Room (Kino Lorber, NR)

The gags and the commentary are mostly just dull.


The premise of Richard Lester’s The Bed Sitting Room (1969) is that World War III destroyed most of Great Britain in a few minutes, leaving a handful of survivors to keep calm and carry on. So the only surviving BBC employee (Frank Thornton) continues to “broadcast” by speaking through the shell of a broken television set, Penelope (Rita Tushingham) lives with her parents (Mona Washbourne, Arthur Lowe) and boyfriend (Richard Warwick) on a still-functioning Underground train (power is supplied by a single man riding a bicycle), and two policemen (Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) patrol from the shell of a Morris Minor dangling rather improbably from a balloon.

Adapted from a play by Spike Milligan and John Antrobus, The Bed Sitting Room is meant as a comically absurd commentary on the danger of nuclear weapons, with a good old twist of the knickers to the icons of British society as well. It has a cast to die for, at least on the male side of things, including, besides those named above, Ralph Richardson (Lord Fortnum of Alamein, who fears he is turning into a bed sitting room, hence the title), Marty Feldman (Nurse Arthur, the lone survivor from the National Health Service), Harry Secombe, Michael Hordern, Spike Milligan, Roy Kinnear, and Jack Shepherd.

Unfortunately, The Bed Sitting Room feels like a pageant in which the boredom of the viewer is only sporadically relieved by that burst of self-congratulation which comes from recognizing a famous actor. It’s more a series of loosely connected gags with recurring characters than a feature film with a well-formed narrative, as if Lester got a bunch of his pals together and told them to goof around in an apocalyptic landscape (shooting locations include a quarry and a dump where imperfect plates from a pottery were discarded). That structure might work if more of the individual bits were funny or if the social commentary were sharper, but both the gags and the commentary are mostly just dull.

For all that, there is some historical interest in seeing this film, which must have meant something to somebody when it was first released, since it was nominated for a Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. The anarchic attitude and disrespect for authority which characterize The Bed Sitting Room will be familiar to fans of Lester’s early films, including A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1965), as well as The Knack …and How to Get It (winner of the 1965 Palme d’Or) and How I Won the War (1967).

The influence of Lester’s approach to comedy, which is based in part on his work with members of The Goon Show cast, can also be seen in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which began airing on the BBC the same year this film opened. The difference is that is that Monty Python still feels fresh, while The Bed Sitting Room feels neither funny nor insightful, making the film’s misogyny and juvenile gags much less tolerable. Add to that the strain of trying to make a story line out of a series of gags, and the result is a film that is a chore to watch, despite a very talented cast.

Extras on the disc include two episodes from the web series Trailers from Hell, featuring John Landis discussing The Bed Sitting Room and Allan Arkush discussing The Knack and How to Get It, and trailers for five Richard Lester films: The Bed Sitting RoomThe Knack and How to Get ItHow I Won the WarJuggernaut, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. | Sarah Boslaugh


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