Movie: A Weekend with Lulu (1961)

Before Hammer Films made their first horror movie, and for some time after, they made all kinds of pictures, dabbling in genres like comedy, war, drama and crime.  So, although they had been doing great box office with monster movies for a few movies, they were still making like comedic fare like A Weekend with Lulu in 1961.

The opening credits alone will determine whether this is a film for you.  A jazzy score accompanies mod titles overlaying start black and white photography, typical of British light comedy of the time. 

Like most UK comedies of this vintage, it is centered around sexual frustration, though in a timid way.  Leslie Phillips has rented a caravan from his ice cream vending friend (Bob Monkhouse), so as to have a romantic weekend with Shirley Eaton away from the prying eyes of her mother (Irene Handl).

Eaton’s character isn’t the titular “Lulu”—that is the name of the caravan.  This is the first of many surprises in a film packed with them.  What most surprised me is it wasn’t until the feature was almost over that I realized the full extent of the bizarre machinations the characters had gone through at that point. The movie may start at point “A”, but it eventually goes through the English alphabet and some ways in the Greek one.

The plot is kicked into gear when all four characters unexpectedly find themselves, Lulu and Bob’s ice cream truck in France.  Admittedly, how they get there from the isle seems impossible, and the characters being oblivious to being in transit so long is highly improbable.  I chose not to think too hard about it and just enjoy watching them struggle to return home while lacking sufficient funds, as well as fluency in the literal lingua franca.

I wouldn’t say the plot is as complex as a clock, but it does have many moving pieces which come to together in different and unexpected ways.  The Tour de France is one such recurring element.  It is represented here almost exclusively through stock footage, though it is awfully good footage.

There’s something that amused me about the trailer, though I seem to be unable to articulate just what it is.  I do usually find it funny when too many people are in a confined space in a film, and there are some of the expected gags centered around that.  I also kept thinking about the caravan from Jacques Tati’s Trafic, even if Lulu doesn’t have the clever innovations of that trailer.  Lulu does, however, have some questionable amenities, such as a iron board which is hinged to fold up against a wall, which seems to be there only to fall down at the least convenient times.

As you can tell, the humor isn’t exactly the most sophisticated, though there were many moments during which I laughed out loud.  Unfortunately, I can’t describe most of those moments without having to provide lengthy exposition which will ruin some surprises.  Even more unfortunately, this is the kind of movie which thinks something is funnier when accompanied by a detuned tom hit.  I’m going to make a new movie rule here: nothing is ever made funnier by having a “funny” sound effect with it, whether that be a detuned tom, a slide whistle or the sad trombone sound.

A Weekend with Lulu has more surprises than I would have anticipated in such a light comedy, but it is still a rather shallow affair. It isn’t as good as most of the output of Ealing Studios, but it could be a good substitution in a pinch. Curiously, even some time after watching this, I’m still wondering why a group of people in an ice cream truck, finding themselves without any money, wouldn’t just sell as much of the product as fast as they can before it melts.

Dir: John Paddy Carstairs

Starring Bob Monkhouse, Leslie Phillips, Shirley Eaton, Irene Handl

Watched on Sony blu-ray