Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Take Me High (1974)

How could a film that stars Cliff Richard as a merchant banker in 1970s Birmingham, a former Dr Who companion as his love interest, has a plot that revolves around a burger that represents the city, and features random shots of people machine-gunning televisions fail? Sadly, Take Me High is nowhere near as interesting as that synopsis may make it appear, a musical drama with no drama and boring, forgettable music.

Cliff plays Tim Matthews, a high flying, (he keeps a half bottle of champagne in the glove box of his Mini Clubman) go-getter in the world of international finance. All set for a promotion and transfer to New York, he is instead sent to Birmingham to turn the screws on a failing restaurant and the owner, Sarah Jones (played by Deborah Watling, perhaps best known for playing Victoria Waterfield, one of the assistants of the second Dr Who, Patrick Troughton). However once there, he finds himself helping relaunch the business as a glamorous burger bar, with the Brum Burger - a product designed to sum up the city in meat form - but also finds himself falling in love with Sarah.

Sadly, Cliff is utterly unconvincing as a smarmy charmless banker, although he gets no help from the script, which has no believable character development, and little in the way of dramatic tension. The musical numbers do actually serve as the internal monologue of Matthews, expressing what is going on in his head, although they are boring and undistinguished.

Deborah Watling makes the character of Sarah Jones likeable and sympathetic and the ever-reliable George Cole does his best as the hard-bitten socialist politician Bert Jackson. However, again, poor scripting makes them both largely dull characters, especially the underwritten part of Jackson, too much even for Cole's talents to breathe life into

The only beacon of interest character-wise is Hugh Griffith as Sir Harry Cunningham, the socialist hating millionaire, who seems to own most of Birmingham. We are first introduced to him at a dinner party, raging at a TV interview with Jackson, before picking up a machine gun and urging his guests join him in blowing the set to pieces. His all too brief and infrequent scenes are so entertainingly bizarre and surreal that they breathe some much-needed life into proceedings, even if those scenes are so jarringly off-the-wall.

The other star of the show is Birmingham itself, and credit to the director David Askey for actually shooting on location, rather than go for the stock footage option. Much is made of the famed canals of the city, fascinating for somebody like me who used to live around that way, perhaps less so for anyone who did not. It certainly does not capture the feel of the people of the city, showing little of the racial and cultural diversity present even 40 years ago, and without the recognisable locations, could actually have been set anywhere outside of London.

As a side note, the Brum burger itself is remarkably prescient, being handmade, and using all locally sourced ingredients, something that every Gastro pub in the country seems to offer nowadays.