The second of three Old Mother Riley double-bills to be released this month [January 2006] by DDVideo, this particular disc takes us towards the tail-end of the series. Here we find instalments twelve and fourteen of what was to become a fifteen-part franchise, though of course the films shouldn’t be considered as sequels. Rather each new Old Mother Riley effort would find Arthur Lucan’s titular music hall creation – an ageing Irish washerwoman with a short temper and a taste for brown ale – placed into a novel situation with scant attention paid to previous appearances.
In these instances that means hotel proprietorship and taking on diamond smugglers in Old Mother Riley’s New Venture, whilst the later Old Mother Riley’s Jungle Venture combined a ghost, spivs and hidden riches on a Caribbean island. Understandably, both are more than a little on the wishy-washy side; take away the comedic elements are its unlikely that you’d find a thriller or an adventure yarn worthy of even a quota quickie. Admittedly, Jungle Treasure just about scrapes by, but then it’s by far the busier of the two and the more heavily populated (including a young-ish Michael Ripper). That said, it also unexplainably introduces a voice-over during the final stages solely it seems as a means of making sense of it all.
The problem with these particular Old Mother Riley movies is that they need some kind of dramatic strength in order to succeed. Rather than seeing his drag act honed to perfection as we may expect at this late stage in his career, Lucan instead comes across as old and tired. Indeed, he actually looks of the age of the character which perhaps adds a dash of pathos, but then it’s not the kind of thing we’re looking for. Even Kitty McShane, Lucan’s (almost) ever-present partner as Old Mother Riley’s daughter, looks worse for wear having piled on the extra chins and the make-up yet, inexplicably, still getting the bland romantic subplots.
The simple fact is that the films on offer here just aren’t as chirpy as the earlier efforts. The cack-handed non-PC nature of Jungle Treasure raises the odd chuckle, but New Venture is sorely lacking. What’s especially dispiriting about this particular entry is the fact that it never once capitalises on the hotel setting. The Marx Brothers did so twice with The Cocoanuts and Room Service, even if both were comparatively lesser efforts; Jerry Lewis had The Bellboy; even Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson found a modicum of mileage in Guest House Paradiso. And that’s without considering the quirkier efforts of The Quiet Family and Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train or TV’s Fawlty Towers of course. Yet all we find here are old routines, a bare minimum of laughs and a comic pairing who are, quite frankly, way beyond their best.
Compounding the disappointment is the fact that both films have less than able presentations. Both are extremely milky in appearance, whilst the soundtracks are blighted by crackle and distortion. Of the two, Jungle Treasure is the more watchable (simply because New Venture is essentially unwatchable) and just about passes muster. That said, comparing these films to those found another Old Mother Riley double-bill, the one which houses …in Paris and …M.P., reveals that those much earlier efforts (dating from 1938 and 1940) look far, far better and makes this particular disc seem far worse. As with that, and DDVideo’s other double-bill, the disc also comes without extras.
Anthony Nield takes a look at another of DDVideo's Region 2 Old Mother Riley double-bills, this disc housing New Venture and Jungle Treasure.