The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

I usually leave the vintage stuff for others. I've never been much interested in reliving the past. To paraphrase "Madison County," the old dreams were good dreams, and I'm glad to have dreamt them, but they are gone now, and there are new ones ahead. Reliving the past with friends at reunions can be kind of fun because that version of the past changes as you do, and as you need to remember it. But reviving the past by watching old movies can be downright depressing, because those movies have not changed with you. Many of the films you loved in your youth just don't hold up to any objective scrutiny. You loved them because of the time and place in which they existed, and that time is gone, as is the person you were then. It's much nicer to leave those films as treasured memories, where they shine unblemished, and intermingle with warm recollections of the events that surrounded them: "I saw this on my first date with ..."; or "I remember that film - I was trapped in Oswego in a snowstorm and there was nothing else to do, so we caught the late show in a neighborhood theater and ate at a pizza place which only happened to be open because the owner couldn't get home in the storm."

Unfortunately, I had to rewatch many 1967-74 films during the past decade in order to chronicle the nudity, and I often found myself wondering why I ever thought they were any good. Perfect example? I had such great memories of The Graduate - until I actually watched it again. It does have a good beginning up to the point where Benjamin is seduced by Mrs Robinson, and it has a memorable ending. Of course, those are the only sections anyone ever remembers about the movie. And with good reason. In between those parts is an unbearably bad story line about a total douchebag of a guy who is stalking a girl despite the fact that she keeps getting more and more creeped out by him. Dustin Hoffman's character could not be less appealing. If you saw that part without the intro, you would assume it to be the introduction to a unpleasant grade-B slasher movie which ends up with Katherine Ross being eviscerated in a back alley.

Sigh. Memory shattered.

That brings us back to The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer. I never saw it in 1970, but I have heard friends speak of it warmly and often, perhaps because it disappeared almost completely, unreleased on home video and rarely shown on TV, and therefore existing only in their memories. It featured the all-star team of British comedy from the second half of the 20th century. The droll comic genius Peter Cook starred and co-wrote the script with Monty Python's Graham Chapman and John Cleese, who also play minor roles. Other members of the cast include Denholm Eliot, one of The Two Ronnies (the dwarfish one), and the Nobel laureate playwright Harold Pinter, using his memorable basso profundo voice to impersonate a slimy TV presenter, and making his only film appearance between 1967 and 1985.

And it has a great nude scene.

Sounds good, right? When it came to Region 2 DVD, I jumped on it.

Yet another disappointment. It's not a bad film, but is an unexpectedly serious one. Expecting silly shenanigans, surreal situations, farce, and absurdist notions, I instead found dark and deadpan social satire.

The basic problem with the film is that the authors are out of their element. They are all excellent at writing sketch comedy with absurdist touches and non-stop humor, but this is more or less a dark comedic story in the Kubrick vein. That format requires both a slick narrative and characterization, and that immediately raises two problems:

1. The film contains long stretches with exiguous wit, as the authors establish characterization or plot.

2. Point one is bad enough, I suppose, but the problem might be overcome if those three guys were any good at writing plots and creating dimensional, developed characters. They are not. They are good at creating zany caricatures, non-sequiturs, and jokes. As a result, the story drags on and on and on in completely predictable fashion at a snail's pace, and some scenes don't even try to be funny. Denholm Eliot and Graham Chapman are straight men here, as they usually are. Cook is known for his wit, but has to stay in character here and really makes no effort to be funny at all. He is an eerily menacing and Machiavellian character who walks into a failing advertising agency, pretends he's employed there, and works his way up until he becomes master of the house, then of the Tory party, then eventually absolute dictator of all the UK. He has no punch lines. In fact, his role mostly consists of disguising his feelings by saying things like, "Oh, yes, quite," while he smiles falsely and seems to be reproaching the person he has just agreed with. This is the sort of undeveloped, one-note character that works well in a short sketch, but 90 minutes of him is about 88 too many. His continuous presence on screen means that much of the film makes no effort at verbal wit.

That's not to say the film is a complete waste of time. Several of the minor characters are humorous, and there are moments when the film uses the authors' considerable gifts to great advantage. Cleese even does some silly walking (and silly dancing), and it can be hilarious, especially to Python fans who make the association. Cook's ex-partner, Dudley Moore, did not appear in this film, but he was represented in absentia by a fictional place name. On his way to the top, Cook's character becomes the MP for a remote place called "Budleigh Moor."

And the nude scene really is as good as advertised: a beautiful woman stark naked, photographed perfectly in just the right light. That leads to another of the film's significant plusses, one which came as a complete surprise to me. The cinematography is uniformly excellent. And I don't mean just kinda good, but spectacularly good. Who could have guessed? The DP on this film was Alex Thompson, the same man who received a justly deserved Oscar nomination for having photographed Excalibur. The interiors of Rise and Rise include gorgeous sets which are photographed elegantly, and many of the exteriors are highly memorable. There are many brilliant exterior scenes from which to choose an example, but my favorite shots came during a sub-plot in which a troop of British special forces crossed the mountains to rob some Swiss gold. The dramatic visual presentation of that caper would be the most impressive part of a Bond film, let alone a silly satire of British politics. It is so stunning that it almost seems inappropriately dramatic in a film made by Cook and some Pythonites.

The cinematography probably seemed to be the film's greatest strength when it screened (and bombed with both moviegoers and critics), but seen in retrospect, the film's real strength is its perceptiveness. The script may not be all that funny, but it absolutely gets the Order of Merit for prescience. It depicts politicians as scheming egoists clinging to power with highly orchestrated presentations of half-truths, while presenting the public false images sculpted from opinion polls. In a pre-Watergate world that must have seemed like a combination of satirical exaggeration and surrealist humor. The intervening years have taught us that it is pretty much just a straightforward exposition of the way things really work.

This film is not available in a Region 1 DVD or Blu-Ray. You may obtain it on a Region 2 disk from several outlets, including Amazon UK.


2.5 TV Guide (of 4 stars)







6.8 IMDB summary (of 10)










UK results unknown. No North American release.









The naked lady (including a full frontal behind a translucent door) is Vanessa Howard. She retired from acting within a couple of years after playing this part, and she later admitted that she hadn't been much interested in acting in the first place. That shows in her performance, which is mediocre at best. She ended up living in Hollywood, married to beaucoup de bucks in the form of Hollywood high muck-a-muck Robert Chartoff, who produced a lot of memorable films, including Rocky, Raging Bull, and The Right Stuff, all of which earned him Oscar nominations. (He won the Oscar for Rocky.)




Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


Filled with outstanding positives and negatives, it is a marvelous cult item. While its prospective audience is small, those in that audience will love it. I expected a Pythonesque comedy, did not get one, and still considered it worth my time, although I did not love it.