Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

One Way Pendulum

(UK, 1964)

Here’s one for my list of extremely odd movies. It’s not a long list. It’s from a stage play by N.F. Simpson, who was an absurdist, like Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett. It was influenced by the famous “Goon Show,” and in turn influenced Monty Python. It was made a year before one of my favorite films, Richard Lester’s The Knack … and How to Get It, and there is a kinship, though this one has no actual plot. It concerns a ditsy family in a small house in London. The father is busy reconstructing the Old Bailey in the living room. The son steals talking scales, or speak-your-weight machines (“Your weight is ten stone, eight pounds”) and keeps them in the attic, where he’s teaching them to sing. I didn’t even know there were talking scales in 1964. The mother cooks so much food she hires people to come in and eat the leftovers. The daughter (Julia Foster, who was one of Michael Caine’s girlfriends in Alfie) wants to have her arms shortened. It begins in the more-or-less real world, but gets crazier by the minute, and about halfway through diverges into another reality, with an absurdist trial happening. (The judge proposes one of the better arguments against the death penalty I’ve ever heard: Capital punishment precludes society from prosecuting the dead man for crimes he might have committed had he lived.) I can’t say that I laughed much, but I was interested, sometimes fascinated. I suspect this sort of lunacy might have played better on the stage. It was directed, very early in his career, by Peter Yates, probably best known for Bullitt. He also did The Hot Rock, a favorite of mine.