Richard Lester

(Copyright © 1999-2020 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

6.0 It's Trad Dad (1962)
6.5 The Mouse in the Moon (1963)
6.0 A Hard Day's Night (1964)
5.5 Help (1965)
7.0 The Knack (1965)
6.8 A Funny Thing Happened at the Forum (1966)
7.0 How I Won the War (1967)
7.2 Petulia (1968)
7.0 The Bed Sitting Room (1969)
6.6 The Three Musketeers (1973)
6.2 The Four Musketeers (1974)
6.0 Juggernaut (1974)
5.5 Royal Flash (1975)
6.9 Robin and Marion (1976)
5.0 Ritz (1976)
6.0 Cuba (1979)
5.8 Butch and Sundance - The Early Days (1979)
6.2 Superman II (1980)
5.8 Superman III (1983)
7.3 Finders Keepers (1984)
5.0 The Return of the Musketeers (1989)

If English is your first language and you could translate my old Italian texts, please contact me.

Richard Lester (USA, 1932) si trasferì da Philadelphia negli anni '50 e iniziò a lavorare per la televisione e a una serie di intermezzi pubblicitari, grazie ai quali mise a punto uno stile frenetico e surreale, vivace e spigliato.

It's Trad Dad (1962) is a musical comedy about a couple of husband and wife who fight to bring jazz to a small town.

Lester directed the sci-fi parody The Mouse in the Moon (1963), an adaptation of Leonard Wibberley's novel "The Mouse on the Moon" that served as the sequel of Jack Arnold's The Mouse That Raged (1959), a funny comedy for about one hour with a terrible ending.

A tiny kingdom in the middle of Europe is in trouble because its only export, wine, has become an explosive item: the bottles explode when they are uncorked. This greatly annoys the prime minister, who was dreaming of installing modern plumbing in his mansion and instead faces bankruptcy. The prime minister proposes a plan to rescue the country: ask the USA for funding to contribute to their space race against the Soviet Union. The USA accepts, and in fact doubles the amount, because it serves its propaganda purposes. The prime minister rejoices with the motto "peace, prosperity and plumbing" and welcomes the return of his son, the naive Vincent, from college. The lad dreams of becoming an astronaut. In order to match the generosity of the USA, the Soviet Union gifts a rocket to the kingdom. The one and only scientist of the kingdom accidentally discovers that a fantastic fuel can be distilled from the explosive wine of the kingdom. Unbeknownst to the prime minister, the scientist begins to train Vincent to become an astronaut for real. The British, meanwhile, suspect that the USA has a secret plan for giving money to the kingdom, and send a secret agent to investigate, Maurice. Maurice is no inept that he is quickly discovered by the scientist and Vincent. He is also a vile man who, thinking that the kingdom will execute him, begs for his life and offers to reveal all the secrets of Britain. However the scientist and Vincent are not interested in the secrets of Britain, and in fact have no problem revealing their own secret to Maurice, so they tell him how they plan to send the rocket to the Moon using wine as an atomic fuel. Then they let Maurice go. Maurice, of course, thinks this is all a ridiculous farce and informs Britain that there is nothing to fear. The scientist and Vincent inform their prime minister of the episode, and the prime minister (who is enjoying his new bath-tub with warm water thanks to the newly-installed plumbing) fears that the whole world will learn that the project is a hoax and therefore the USA, embarrassed in front of the whole world, will want the money back. Vincent and the scientist try to explain that they intend to really launch the rocket, but the prime minister too thinks it's just a hoax. Nonetheless the prime minister plans to fool the USA by engineering a fake launch with much fanfare. In fact he invites the USA, the Soviet Union and Britain to witness the historical event. The scientist and Vincent board the rocket (placed on top of the tower of the royal castle) in front of the distinguished and very skeptical guests, who have been amused by the tour of the rocket (the scientist decorated it like a charming European home). The rocket instead takes off successfully, causing the prime minister to have a heart attack. While the scientist and Vincent kill the time playing chess, the USA and the Soviet Union rush their own rockets to the launching pad, determined to get to the Moon before the kingdom's astronauts. Vincent the scientist beat the competition and land first. Then they welcome the USA and the Soviet spacecrafts. Vincent has already claimed ownership of the Moon and Vincent behaves like an immigration official interviewing foreign visitors. Then the scientist and Vincent offer a dinner to the astronauts of the two countries. Since everybody's radios are broken, nobody on Earth knows what happened. The astronauts realize that the first to return to Earth will obtain the most publicity. The USA and Soviet crews try to rush back but their spacecrafts crash on take-off. The kingdom is celebrating the funerals of the two daring astronauts, presumed dead in space, when their spacecraft appears in the sky. Vincent and the scientist have given a ride to the unfortunate astronauts of the two superpowers. The moment they land, the diplomats start a fight to claim who reached the Moon first.

Si rivelò con A Hard Day's Night (1964), e Help (1965), opere che, sfruttando il giovanilismo esuberante dei Beatles, si trasformarono in caroselli surreali a ritmo serrato di gag verbali e visive. Il dinamismo caricaturale di Lester riesce a fondere due tradizioni della risata diversissime come quella del compassato e ponderato nonsense britannico e quella della frenetica e fragorosa slapstich americana. La dispersione della trama in episodi periferici, ciascuno una sophisticated comedy in miniatura, si presta a celebrare e dissacrare un luogo comune della mitologia della swinging London. Commedia dell'arte e teatro dell'assurdo rovesciano la struttura del musical americano. Sulla struttura del film esercitano un'influenza determinante invece i fumetti, la pubblicità, e i film hollywoodiani di serie B.

The Knack (1965), loosely based on the 1962 play by Ann Jellicoe, si avvicinò al cinema verità nel narrare le avventure sentimentali di due ragazzi innamorati della stessa ragazza. Lester introduced experimental editing and acting, including characters speaking directly to the camera and a Greek-style chorus of old people lamenting the actions of the young characters.

Girls making themselves beautiful. Colin is a frustrated schoolteacher who wants a girl, jealous of his womanizing housemate Tolen. Nancy is a plain-looking girl who gets off the train in a big station and wonders around the big city looking for a guesthouse. Colin is begging Tolen to teach him how to score with girls. They have a third room to rent out and Tolen is suggesting to rent it to his friend Rory, another womanizer. But Colin has enough of one womanizer in the house driving him crazy with jealousy. In the meantime a young man, Tom, has simply walked into the free room and started painting it bright white. Nancy is still looking for her guesthouse, and during her odyssey she meets both gentlemen and jerks. Determined to buy a larger bed for his forthcoming sexual exploits, Colin follows Tom to a junkyard. Nancy ends up at the same junkyard, still looking for her guesthouse. They walk back together to the house, and Nancy is introduced to the madness of the three housemates in the empty bright white room. She happily goes along with their nonsense until Tolen arrives. She is repulsed and scared by him, but can't resist him. They take off on Tolen's motorcycle. Colin is jealous. Tom tells Colin to chase them. The two run after the motorcycle in a comic chase. Tolen takes Nancy to a park, where she feels threatened. He is not even advancing towards her but she has a hysterical fit (that looks a lot like an orgasm) and faints. Tom and Colin arrive. Nancy wakes up and accuses Tolen of rape. They walk back to the house. She keeps saying "rape" to everybody (even to an old lady who replies "not today, thank you"). She is clearly traumatized by the thought of rape. She walks into Tolen's room and undresses, still repeating "rape". In order to heal her, Colin suggests that Tolen rapes her for real. Tolen does not feel like, and eventually Nancy changes version of the facts: now it's Colin who raped her. Tolen leaves the house shocked and humiliated. Tom goes back to painting his room. Colin and Nancy take a walk outside, hand in hand. Old people criticize the fact that they are moving in together without being married, and Tolen joins the chorus. Lester devised several tricks to emphasize the generational gap and the changing times. For example, elderly people continuously comment on what the young people do. Sometimes they criticize the young, sometimes they provide a comic counterpoint. He also blended the nonchalant nihilism of the French nouvelle vague, the hysterical style of television advertising, the spontaneity of the "candid camera" and the semi-demented stance of the swinging London.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), trasposizione del musical di Stephen Sondheim ambientato nella Roma decadente, diede libero sfogo alla farsa più paradossale e goliardica.

Protagonista è uno schiavo scaltro e bugiardo che aiuta il figlio del padrone ad avvicinare la schava-prostituta ancora vergine di cui è ancora innamorato, ma il padre del giovane se ne invaghisce e il feroce capitano che l'ha comprata la reclama; lo schiavo tenta di evitare con ogni trucco che la vergine cada nelle mani del bruto, e al tempo stesso vuole per se una sensuale schiava muta. Di avventura in avventura lo schiavo e la muta riescono a salvare il giovane, che si era offerto ai gladiatori per morire, il quale a sua volta salva la sua amata, che si era offerta in sacrificio alle vestali. Grande inseguimento generale per i boschi. Il capitano cattura tutti e si aggiunge a sposare la vergine e a giustiziare gli altri quando arriva l'anziano Keaton che riconosce nel capitano e nella vergine i suoi due figli perduti. Lo scipito giovane può sposare la vergine.

How I Won the War (1967) is a martial comedy that reaffirmed the influence of the Marx Brothers over the influence of the Ealing comedies. Parody and chaos turn war into a circus of demented and delusional characters whose goal is to perform a brutal task with dignity and honor, not to use common sense. There isn't much of a plot, though. These are mostly loosely tied musichall skits. Many jokes fall flat, many are too childish to be funny, and several dialogues are cryptic (probably because they reference contemporary British matters that only someone living then and there could understand). Ultimately, it is a not an "anti-war" movie but rather a parody of anti-war movies, and therefore an anti-anti-war movie. Its main target actually appears to be the British aristocracy: pompous, self-righteous and so obsessed with discipline, honor and pride. All in all, a rather tedious experience.

The film is ostensibly the memoir of a Lieutenant Goodbody, starting with his training. When he is appointed in charge of a platoon, his men roll their eyes. Their mission is to set a cricket pitch in the middle of the Sahara desert. The ragtag group ranges from a no-nonsense sergeant (the only one who seems to know what a war is) to a deranged self-appointed general. He manages to fall into water when they are landing in North Africa and then wanders among the dunes until his men find him again. He issues the wrong signal that causes their own air force to bomb his platoon. That's just the beginning: his soldiers die one by one, mostly due to his inept decisions. One of them begins the movie saying that he died in North Africa, and just keeps repeating it until it happens. When the moment of battle finally comes, the soldiers chorally repeat robotically their commander's orders like a Greek choir. When he attracts a British warplane by waving the wrong flag and his men have to shoot down the friendly plane, he gives a congratulatory speech to his men, and the sergeant is tempted to shoot him right there. After an epic battle the survivors of the platoon complete their mission (set the cricket pitch) and find their chronic deserter dressed in a Nazi uniform. The lieutenant chats with a Nazi officer, who is indifferent to the million of people killed by his regime, and realizes that it is the first time in the film that he feels like talking to somebody. The lieutenant too doesn't feel bad about his men who died. The Nazi officer tells him that he (the lieutenant) is a fascist. Meanwhile his epics moves to Europe, where the last of his men die. He negotiates with the Nazi officer about a bridge over a strategic river, a bridge that the Nazi is about to blow up, and eventually gets the Nazi to concede the bridge. But the Nazi too becomes a victim of the lieutenant's stupidity (run over by the first tank that crosses the bridge). The men of his platoon who died in the mission walk over the bridge chatting about their future. Now that the war is over the deserter (in a suit and tie) chats amicably with the lieutenant about his guilt. The lieutenant claims that he won the war.

Petulia (1968) applica lo spirito dissacratorio di quel cinema beat alla drammatica condizione femminile. Petulia (Christie) è infatti una donna stravagante e spregiudicata, vittima di un marito infantile e violento; la relazione con un medico divorziato viene brutalmente ripresa da questi, e l'adultera, resasi conto di non poter contare sull'amante, accetta di tornare dal consorte a compiere il suo dovere di riproduzione. La commedia sofisticata al servizio della denuncia sociale. Il film e` un capolavoro postmoderno.

The Bed Sitting Room (1969) is an adaptation of the play by Spike Milligan and John Antrobus (1963) set in a world that has been devastated by a nuclear war. In Lester's hands, it becomes a surreal post-apocalyptic farce.

The world has become a giant junkyard. A man (Frank Thornton) gets out of his improvised hut, announces himself as the BBC and walks to a broken tv set (or, better, just the screen of it). He sticks his head into it and starts the "broadcast" by recalling his viewers (just one person sitting on a broken sofa) what happened. Three or four years earlier the world was annihilated by World War III, a nuclear war that lasted for two minutes and twenty-eight seconds. He used to be a BBC reporter and the flashback shows him interviewing politicians. And just when the prime minister announced a peace treaty a nuclear bomb annihilated London. There are isolated survivors in the junkyard. Notably, a lord is convinced he will be turned into a bed-sitting room because of the nuclear radiations. The subway is still running. Penelope (Rita Tushingham), a young woman who is 17-month pregnant, lives in a train with her parents. However, they don't seem to be in control of the train, as the man is stranded at a station when the train starts running by itself. When he boards the train again, he finds his daughter making love with a young stranger. The family and the young man visit the ruins, and it feels like a family picnic. The police still exist, but hardly what they used to be: an inspector and a sergeant (Dudley Moore) hover over the ruins in a wheel-less car attached to a balloon. Most institutions (such as the BBC, the fire department and the government itself) are reduced to just one person. The health care system is just one nutty male nurse, dressed like a woman. Odd encounters continue but Penelope is the only woman in that age group. Penelope's mother is mutating into a cupboard and the widower is given a death certificate. Penelope's father decides to marry her to an old captain, but he is impotent and so she makes love with her boyfriend Alan again. She finally gives birth to the baby, who is a monster. The lord mutates into a bed-sitting room. Her mutates into a parrot. His own daughter does not hesitate to cook him for dinner. Penelope's baby dies, but she gives birth to another one, and this time it's a normal child. A messenger comes from the sky to announce that the problems related to the radioactive cloud are coming to an end and better days lie ahead. Penelope, Alan and her child can walk towards green fields.

Dopo una version di The Three Musketeers (1973) di Dumas, che ce li descrive incivili cafoni rissosi, e avra un seguito in The Four Musketeers (1974), il fantapolitico Juggernaut (1974) segna l'adesione al cinema catastrofico di Hollywood e il temporaneo abbandono della farsa. L'artificiere e il terrorista sono però dei tipi singolari, entrambi in qualche modo simbolo della crisi dell'individualismo e dei valori eroici.

Un terrorista ha nascosto delle bombe su un transatlantico e chiede un forte riscatto, ma un geniale artificiere raggiunge la nave e dopo una estenuante ricerca riesce a disinnescare tutti gli ordigni.

Royal Flash (1975), dal romanzo di George Fraser, ritorna al divertimento puro, con una facile satira della corte austriaca e dissacrazione del mito di Lola Montez, ma la storia e` debole e assomiglia troppo a "The Prisoner of Zenda" (il romanzo del 1894 di Anthony Hope).

Dopo i tre moschettieri di Dumas, Lester gira un'altra revisione personale di un classico dell'infanzia e del feuilleton: Robin and Marion (1976) ci consegna gli anni del crepuscolo del celebre eroe di Sherwood. Amarezza e tenerezza perturbano il buio scapigliato di Lester. Il film rappresenta il picco degli esperimenti revisionisti irreverenti di Lester.

Robin Hood, reduce da tante battaglie con nostalgie, vent'anni dopo fra i vecchi amici e il vecchio amore che ritrova in un'abbazia. Riprendono le lotte con il malvagio sceriffo, e questa volta Robin vince per sempre il suo ultimo duello. Ma per Robin e Marian è la fine malinconica di una vita sprecata: ferito a morte, trova soltanto la forza di scagliare l'ultima freccia in cielo.

Ritz (1976) e` una farsa di omosessuali, mediocre trasposizione della commedia teatrale di Terrence McNally.

La commedia romantica Cuba (1979) ripropone la situazione di Robin and Marian in un contesto alla Casablanca: un mercenario assoldato dal generale Batista ritorna alle armi e ritrova una vecchia fiamma, sullo sfondo dei costumi corrotti di un regime di macchiette demenziali.

Butch and Sundance - The Early Days (1979) opera un'altra grottesca ricostruzione storica e un'altra demistificazione. I due eroi western vengono colti vent'anni prima, all'epoca dei primi furtarelli adolescenziali. L'iconografia western viene così rivista nell'ottica di due eroi scalcagnati.

Superman II (1980) mescola tutti i generi in cui Lester si è cimentato producendo una colossale parodia di stereotipi; ancora più comico ma forse troppo sconclusionato è Superman III (1983).

Finders Keepers (1984) è una grandiosa commedia di inseguimenti alla Keaton, his most hilarious film.

The film opens in 1973: in the middle of the night a young woman, Georgiana, dressed in black like a mourning widow, opens the door of a mansion to her lover Josef and guides him to a big safe, which she opens for him, holding his bag while he steals its contents. On the way out she gives the middle finger to a portrait hanging in the living room. They flee in a hearse, hiding the loot in the coffin. Meanwhile, in an empty rollerskating rink Michael is facing the fury of the rollerskating women of his rollerderby team, who have not been paid for a performance. Michael tells them to train for a new performance and they reluctantly do. When the owner of the rink comes to kick them out, because he has other plans for the rink, Michael doesn't have the guts to tell the girls and flees. The girls, furious, chase him. He jumps a fence and finds himself facing a sexy woman suntanning in a bikini pointing a gun at him; but she gets interested in him when he tells her that five girls are chasing him and invites him inside. A frustrated housewife, she drags him to the bath tub and performs oral sex on him demonstrating amazing skills at holding her breath underwater. She also casually mentions that she is married to... the police chief. Back to the mansion, Georgiana's rich father (the man of the portrait) is telling the FBI agent that his daughter has been kidnapped. Mysteriously, the father hides the real amount that has been stolen. The agent is trying to investigate but is escorted by two inept cops, the police chief and his assistant. The police chief returns home earlier than usual and finds his wife in the bathroom with Michael, and arrest Michael who, as a child, was befriended by an adult black male called Century who has a long criminal record as a conman. The two cops are driving Michael to the station when they are distracted by the gang of rollerskating girls and hit a car. Michael takes advantage of the confusion and runs, still half naked. Josef's and Georgiana's hearse is also passing by. They head to the train station where they put the casket on a train to New York. Michael buys an army uniform and walks into the train station. He finds a backpack in the bathroom with a national flag inside. Two military police officers think he looks suspicious but he promptly lays the flag on the casket that is being carried to the train, so that it looks like he's escorting a dead soldier. Georgiana sees everything and asks Josef to take care of Michael. During the trip Michael has no choice but to listen to the endless story of the old conductor. The conductor also asks Michael who the dead soldier is and where the casket is being sent, and Michael picks a random town from a newspaper page. The conductor informs him that the train doesn't stop there. During a stop Josef threatens Michael but Michael ignores him. During that stop Michael calls Century for help from a public phone. When Michael boards the train again, he sits next to a crazy blond, Standish, another verbose person but also paranoid and rude. She's an aspiring actress who claims to have been asbused by all sorts of men. She asks Michael to show him the casket and then kisses him passionately. Josef threatens Michael so many times that Michael eventually sense that something is weird with the coffin, opens it and finds the money. Meanwhile, the FBI agent boards the train suspecting that the kidnapper of Georgiana is on that train. Michael initially thinks that the agent is after him for sleeping with the chief's wife, but is reassured when the agent shows him the picture of a woman he doesn't know (Georgiana). On the other hand, Standish sees a picture of the same woman in the newspaper, reads that she's been kidnapped and concludes that Michael is the kidnapper and has hidden the corpse in the coffin. She tells the FBI agent who asks her to cooperate, but five minutes later she tells Michael what she did and regrets it. When the FBI agent comes to talk to him, Michael convinces him that Standish is just an epileptic who imagines things. But then Michael is attacking by Josef who finally has a chance to get rid of Michael, but Michael is saved by Century, who has boarded the train dressed as a priest. Josef is ejected from the train and has to walk on the rails. Meanwhile, Georgiana, still dressed in black, is on a bus full of singing nuns. Standish gets off in Denver. It's a long stop and the conductor, who is old enough to know a lot of people in Washington, takes advantage to make a phone call to... the president of the USA. He asks for the train to be allowed to stop at a small town where Michael said the dead soldier is from. The president also promises to alert the mayor. The mayor receives a telegram from the White House and panics: the dead soldier is his nephew. The whole town is excited that the train will make a special stop by order of the president. The mayor drives to a farmhouse and tells his sister what is happening. Now we learn that the nephew is... alive. The boy, slightly idiotic, has deserted and is hiding there. The mayor plans to give him a hero's funeral and then send him far away. Century has figured out what has happened: that the money belongs to Georgiana's rich father and that the father lied about the amount that was stolen because he is committing tax fraud. Standish surprises them: she boards the train again and eavesdrops on their plan to steal the money. She offers her suitcase. The conductor tells them that, by order of the president of the USA, the train will make a stop in the small rural town, but Michael didn't believe him. When the train arrives, the marching band plays, the mayor gives a speech, the mayor's daughter recites a poetry. Standish, escorted by the "soldier" Michael and the "military priest" Century, makes up that she's the dead soldier's wife. The mayor is in a hurry to bury the dead soldier. The trio doesn't have a chance to take the money out of the coffin and take a room in the town's hotel. The mayor now is furious at his idiotic nephew for not telling him that he got a wife. Century is determined to dig up the money. Standish forces Michael to have sex while Century is out. Meanwhile, Josef is hitchhiking to catch up with the train, he sees the funeral on television, learns where the trio is, shows up at Georgiana's hotel room while Michael and Century are digging up the money. Georgiana is two hours ahead of the train (because the train made the unplanned stop) and a bartender recognizes her as the kidnapped girl and informs the FBI while she too sees the funeral on television. The agent therefore learns that she's not kidnapped at all. Michael and Century dig up the money from the grave and don't know that the idiotic boy (the one who is supposed to be buried there) is watching them. When they leave with the money, the mayor's daughter comes to put flowers on his grave. The idiotic boy jumps out and she runs away thinking she's seen a ghost. She informs her father that the dead boy has risen from the dead. Back to the hotel, Michael and Century realize that Standish has been kidnapped. Now Michael is truly in love with the silly Standish and is ready to trade the suitcase full of money for her. Alas, Josef had the great idea to hide in a house that turns out to be a prefab home: soon a truck comes to tow it on the road. Century comes up with a trick to steal the car of the police chief. They drive to the address left by Josef and they find that the home has been moved. Meanwhile, both the FBI agent and Georgiana arrive at the hotel at the same time and he arrests her. Meanwhile, a cop sees the boy alive and well in the mayor's house and arrests the boy as a deserter and the mayor for hiding a deserter. Meanwhile, Michael and Century, driving the police car, track down the prefab home. The driver who is driving the truck jumps out, Century tries in vain to stop the truck, Michael and Josef fight. But all ends well for the trio: Michael eventually kicks out Josef who is prompty arrested by the FBI agent while the trio boards a trio that is conveniently passing by with the suitcase. Michael opens the suitcase and realizes that it is empty: someone already took all the money. But Century is honest and shows them that the money was in his jacket all along, and gladly shares it with the happy couple.

Lester's career ended de facto with another Dumas adaptation, The Return of the Musketeers (1989).

(Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )