FiLM REViEW: On TheFiddle, 1961

Sean Connery’s rather oddball big screen debut…

Alfred Lynch is really the star of this gently enjoyable comedy, with a pre Dr No Sean Connery appearing in what is, retrospectively, an unusual and slightly odd comedic sidekick role. Lynch plays Pope, a cheeky cockney chancer, always on the make, and as good a film definition of the concept of the ‘artful dodger’ as any you might hope to find.

While plying his spiv style trade outside an RAF recruitment office, Pope is razzed by the rozzers; his charm offensive with the female ‘beak’ backfires, and he winds up being ‘voluntarily’ enlisted much against his will, where he befriends ‘Pedlar’ Pascoe, Connery’s character.

Lynch, left, is the main character.

An odd pairing – Pope, practically press-ganged, is always ducking and diving, desperate to avoid work, keen to line his pockets, and positively allergic to the idea of frontline service; Pascoe, who volunteered, is a simple, accommodating chap, slow to catch on but quick to help out (oh, and keen to fight the Germans) – we follow them as Pope masterminds one dodge or fiddle after another.

Both leads were relatively new and unknown faces at the time, but they acquit themselves well, and are ably supported by a panoply of classic acting talent of the era, including such stalwarts as Stanley Holloway and Cecil Parker. 

Army ‘surplus’ spivs at work.

And there are other faces we know better from later work, such as John le Mesurier, and even ‘Babs’ Windsor, who, along with another dolly-bird have – titter – a couple of small parts (eh?). And, perhaps with an eye to the US market, there’s even a role for American actor and comedian Alan King.

Having already given away a little of the plot, I’ll refrain from any further synopsis. Suffice it to say that we follow the duo in their nefarious misadventures through various intriguing scenarios, all of which afford ample scope for ‘Popey’ to exercise his amoral skills, Connery’s ‘Pedlar’ tagging along affably, a kind of workhorse simpleton whose heft helps Pope out on occasion.

There’s a scene or two to create a Yank tie-in.

The plot is a ‘treatment’ by novelist and Napoleonic history buff R. F. Delderfield, and his literary skills mean this lightweight comedy punches above its weight. The basic premise is itself an unusually amoral take on the British WWII wartime drama genre, and Delderfield sets up scenarios, with dialogue and plot that are sufficiently real to be involving. There’s even the odd poignant moment.

An odd little under the radar type gem this. Perhaps not an out and out classic. Nevertheless, I loved it. My head gives it three or so, whilst my heart gives it four stars. So I’ll give it three and a half for now.

A rather misleading American poster.

The poster above is for the American version, renamed Operation SNAFU, which rather misleadingly gives Connery star billing, and suggests a post-Dr No cash-in.

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