Romance With a Double Bass
directed by Robert Young
(Pacific Arts, 1974)

John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, and Connie Booth, at the time Cleese's wife and soon to be his co-star in the BBC comedy Fawlty Towers, turned their comedic eyes to czarist Russia in the little-known movie Romance With a Double Bass.

This film doesn't deserve to be lost in the depths of cinematic memory. Based on a short story by Anton Chekhov, the tale of a Russian musician and a beautiful princess is delightful even after repeated viewings.

Cleese is Smychkov, a double-bass player who is turned away from the palace because he's arrived too soon for that evening's betrothal ball. He and the Princess Costanza (Booth), who is suffering pre-betrothal jitters, set off separately for a relaxing skinnydip in a nearby river. Their clothes are stolen by a nimble thief, and they find each other while trying to sneak back to the palace without being seen.

What follows is an entertaining dialogue as the naked Cleese tries to carry the naked Booth back to the palace in his instrument case -- while retaining both the bass and his dignity in the process. Her regal bearing even while curled up in the case is as amusing as his fearful subservience. Things tend towards the slapstick once they regain the palace and try to clothe themselves without arousing suspicion, all under the watchful eyes of the aloof major domo (John Moffatt) and beleaguered conductor, Maestro Lakeyich (Freddie Jones).

While the humor isn't painted with quite so broad a brush as Monty Python or Fawlty Towers, it certainly captures Cleese's trademark humor. Romance With a Double Bass is a charming film, one I recommend highly.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 11 May 2002

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