StudioCanal are making a bit of a habit of releasing classic British comedies, the one?s you used to see on Sunday afternoon TV. On DVD from 9th July comes the UK premiere of 1964 caper-comedy ?Crooks in Cloisters? starring Barbara Windsor, Bernard Cribbens and Ronald Fraser (among a host of other British comedy thesps). After pulling off a daring train robbery, ?Little Walter? (Ronald Fraser: The Misfit) and his crew are forced to lie low, away from the attentions of the monstrous Superintendent Mungo. The six of them set up business in an abandoned island monastery off the Cornish coast disguised as monks, despite the fact that none of them really qualifies as a monk – least of all Walter’s girlfriend ?Bikini? (Barbara Windsor). True to form, old habits initially die hard and soon their vows of poverty give way to a massive counterfeiting operation. Successfully dodging visits by tourists and even real monks, the gang are taken by surprise to find ?the simple? life starting to grow on them, but is it too late for them to turn over a new leaf and escape Mungo?s clutches?
It?s a by-the-numbers British 60?s comedy, silliness and sauce with lashings of slapstick. Barbara Windsor is at her ?Carry On? best, all legs, breasts and big hair; while Bernard Cribbens continues his run of playing foolish, almost simplistic, characters. And it is in these tropes that the real shame for the movie comes, because while the setting is unique, very little else about the film is. It is another Carry-On lark, another Ealing-caper, another comedy-ensemble that underuses its stars. Unlike some recent re-releases, ?Crooks In Cloisters? feels a little ?cookie-cutter?, something just knocked out quickly while the studio had a group of actors available on contract. There is no sense of love or passion from the cast, they are just ?doing their schtick? for a pay-cheque. And this is a shame as the movie has some heart and quirkiness that makes it endearing if not enthralling. The real problem is that the writer appears to have strung together a series of sketches, all of which would be fine within a TV show, but failed to tie them together with a worthwhile plot. Quite why Bernard Cribbens agreed to be in the film makes little sense, since he rarely speaks and seems to be only interested in sharing screen-time with an ornery goat.
The 1960s are fondly remembered for being a period of British film superiority and innovation, and in many respects they were. But they also suffered from the same malaise Hollywood suffers from today?that of bandwagons and never knowing when to stop. While there were some fine comedy films made in the decade, many of them featuring the stars of this movie, ?Crooks in the Cloisters? just isn?t one of them. Don?t get me wrong, it isn?t a disaster (except in some of the dialogue dubbing which is so out-of-sync it is an unexpected comedic moment in its own right), there is a warm, safe feeling to the film, one that makes it the perfect Sunday-afternoon movie to lightly snooze through. The cast are enjoyably manic, and 1960s Barbara Windsor is always a delight to watch. If you tell your brain to pop out for an hour and a half and switch off your modern day sensibilities, this film will entertain. You will have the urge to question WHY they pretend so hard to be real monks, and WHY anyone in the area would give two hoots about these chaps on the island. You might wonder at the predictable and rather coy love-story, or how Barbara Windsor?s character so easily falls in to the role of cook & cleaner. BUT?ignore these thoughts and relax. Sit back and enjoy some (fairly) innocent silliness. ?Crooks In Cloisters? doesn?t win any points for originality or innovation but it does tickle a few funny bones, and it is that rarest of things in our modern world?it allows you to switch your brain off for an hour and a half. And for that it is a DVD well worth watching (that and Barbara?s BIG hair?just magnificent!)
The DVD transfer is nothing spectacular, but the picture quality is good. There are some occasional aspect-ratio slips, where scenes appear too wide or too stunted, but this is rare. The sound is 2.0 mono, so nothing to be writing home about, but then what do we expect from a 1960s movie? The real shame, as with so many of these DVD releases of classics, is the lack of ANY supporting material. There must be press packs, photos and essays out there, so why not put them on the DVD? Why no retrospective documentary with the surviving cast & crew? This is hailed as a celebration of the 75th birthday of Barbara Windsor so why no short feature on her and her importance to British cinema? At ?15.99 this is an expensive vanilla release, one for British comedy fans only.