Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Fast Lady ( 1962 )

The poster art for The Fast Lady implies that it is another one of Leslie Phillips' libidinous comedies that were popular in the 1960s and which, according to your taste, you would either look forward to with great glee, or scoff in distaste. In reality, the star of the film is not Leslie Phillips, and as far as its rating goes, it is really quite both of these audiences would have been in for a surprise. The studio was in for a surprise too - the film turned out to be the smash hit of 1962. Looking at The Fast Lady today, it's not astonishing to see why the film became such a favorite with the public, for it combines laughter with romance in a high-octane mixture that's sure to rev up anyone's engine. 

The real stars of the The Fast Lady were the lady herself - the 1927 Bentley 3/4½ - and Stanley Baxter, one of the UK's greatest comics. Baxter plays Murdoch Troon, an unattached Scotsman who despises motorcars and loves to bicycle to work. He's a girl-shy young man who finds his neighbor Freddie Fox's ( Leslie Phillips ) obsession with women abhorring. Murdoch's views of women and cars changes fast when he sets his headlamp on a prominent businessman's beautiful blonde daughter, Claire ( Julie Christie ). In an attempt to impress her, Murdoch acquires the racer and undertakes a series of driving lessons. In spite of his clumsiness, winning Claire's affections comes easily enough, but winning the approval of her father ( James Robertson Justice ) becomes another matter entirely. The final decision on whether he is permitted to court her or not rests on how well he can handle the Fast Lady. 

What makes The Fast Lady such an entertaining film is its crisp comic timing and fast speed - we meet Murdoch and see what a predicament he puts himself into right from the start. His Scottish temper and over-confidence get him into one rut after another, especially after he buys the Fast Lady. The rest of the film focuses on Murdoch attempting to acquire the knack of handling the old gal, and if anyone gets impatient during these scenes, it is Murdoch Troon himself. The whole "driving system" makes him want to chuck the car and return to his bicycle....."If only I hadn't invested so much money in the motorcar!" he thinks to himself. 

Stanley Baxter, with his flaming red hair, is a true delight. He was born in Glasgow and made a career on radio and television of imitating ( and exaggerating ) what most people come to associate about the Scots. He is best known for his series of sketches, Parliamo Glasgow, which aired on BBC throughout the 1960s and 1970s. 

In The Fast Lady, Baxter portrays the young Scotsman as a noble, but rather foolish, figure; heavy on the brogue, and proud to wear the kilt when the occasion calls for it. When he is not on the road with the Bentley, or courting Claire, he spends his time counting his pennies, and watching bagpipers on the tele.

Leslie Phillips plays his usual character - the grinning cad - while Julie Christie was making one of her first screen appearances as Murdoch's gal. She catapulted to fame shortly after the release of Billy Liar in 1963. James Robertson Justice is marvelous too as the burly bear who'd rather destroy Murdoch then see him as his son-in-law. He would reprise a similar protective-father role in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang five years later. 

In supporting parts are Allan Cuthbertson as the stern driving inspector, and Kathleen Harrison as Murdoch's sympathetic landlady. Comedian Frankie Thomas also puts in a cameo appearance. 

Two years later most of the cast reunited for another comedy - Father Came Too! - which followed the story of a young married couple who purchase a run-down cottage in the country. 

For me, The Fast Lady ranks, with Genevieve, as one of the best comedies about the Brit's obsession with vintage automobiles, but ach! it is not available on DVD in the US at the moment. Network Distributing has released this film in PAL format in the UK, along with Father Came Too!, and a number of great British comedy classics, so if you have a region-free player, then bully for you. Be sure to check out their website for upcoming releases of other titles.

In the meantime, check out The Fast Lady on Youtube


  1. Sounds like a movie that would have been right at home in the Disney stable. Never heard of it, but it might be worth seeking out. I wonder if it is on Netflix...

  2. First, thanks for the YouTube link as this movie sounds right up my alley. When I saw the poster, I did initially think of a DOCTOR movie since it stars Leslie Phillips and James Robertson Justice! It sounds like a lot of fun.