Year Released: 1967
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 127 minutes
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The only reason to revisit the half-forgotten film version of the once-popular stage musical “Half a Sixpence” is to enjoy its opulent production design and costumes. Set in Edwardian England, the film is certainly one of the best-looking recreations of that bygone era.
But for those who watch movies expecting more than sumptuous sets and handsome costumes, “Half a Sixpence” has little to offer. Inspired by an H.G. Wells short story, the film follows the adventures of an orphaned department store apprentice who discovers he’s inherited a fortune. But his new-found wealth comes with an unexpected pricetag: money cannot buy happiness. Yes, here is yet another British production which tries to drive home the stereotype that the cash-strapped working class are a jolly, wacky bunch while the wealthy are a cold, emotionally sterile collection (Mike Leigh’s “Vera Drake” continues to play that tune).
Speaking of tunes, “Half a Sixpence” is cursed with one of the most forgettable scores ever created. There are no hit songs, which may explain why it is not embraced by the show tunes crowd. The film is also burdened with Tommy Steele, the British pop singer who starred in the West End and Broadway productions of “Half a Sixpence” and who was groomed for Hollywood stardom with this expensive movie. Whatever dynamic charisma he possessed on stage was lost on screen — Steele came across as smug and insincere in his acting, while the close proximity of the camera cruelly exposed the limitations of his singing and dancing. Steele is front and center throughout the entire film, and at a 2 hour-35 minute running time he more than wears out his welcome before the closing credits.
“Half a Sixpence” was a major box office failure when it was released in 1967. Steele managed to stay in Hollywood for two more musicals — the Disney offering “The Happiest Millionaire” and Francis Ford Coppola’s disastrous adaptation of “Finian’s Rainbow” — before his brief American movie career came to an abrupt close.
Posted on November 26, 2004 in Reviews by Phil Hall
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