For a brief moment in time in the mid-'60s, Swinging London was where it was at: the center of fashion, pop music, and all things groovy. Inevitably, a number of films attempted to capture the spirit of Swinging London, most of which failed miserably, but several of which are well worth revisiting. One of those films is 1967's "Smashing Time," directed by Desmond Davis, the story of two girls from the North of England, Yvonne (Lynn Redgrave) and Brenda (Rita Tushingham), who come to London in search of fame and fortune.
The film, written by blues singer/essayist/film critic George Melly, author of "Revolt into Style: Pop Arts in Britain," is half slapstick satire, half musical, as the misadventures of the two leads are often accompanied by songs commenting on the action. Redgrave and Tushingham are clearly not trained singers, but their musical interludes, though a bit on the twee side, are oddly charming. Ironically, in the movie, Redgrave's Yvonne becomes a pop star with a hit single "I Can't Sing But I'm Young."
Redgrave and Tushingham had co-starred in Davis's 1964 directorial debut "The Girl with Green Eyes," and "Smashing Time" attempts to turn the pair into "the female Laurel and Hardy," with the bovine Redgrave as Ollie and the waifish, saucer-eyed Tushingham as Stan. The slapstick nature of many of the gags, including not one but two food fights, is well over-the-top, but the charm and talent of the two actresses rise above the clumsiness of the humor.
Also in the cast are Michael York, in his film debut, as a mod fashion photographer (a la David Bailey), who sports a dodgy mustache and a cockney accent that is miles away from his usual posh delivery; and the brilliant but underutilized Anna Quayle, who won a Tony Award in 1962 for her performance in Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse's "Stop the Word, I Want to Get Off!," playing a feckless socialite who runs Too Much, a trendy boutique modeled after shops like Granny Takes a Trip and Lady Jane.
Yes, the film is silly, and the music, with the exception of one authentic British beat number by Skip Bifferty, fails to capture the sounds of the time, but "Smashing Time" is worth a look if only for the location shots of Carnaby Street and other London landmarks, the mod clothes, and the comic chemistry of the two leads.
Unfortunately, upon its release in late '67, the film did not do well at the box office, because, as Tushingham lamented, "By the time it came out, Swinging London was over."