A dear, departed friend appeared with British comic duo Morecambe and Wise as part of their much-loved television show, and told me this anecdote; after the show was taped, the cast were invited to fill a table at a black-tie do. The cost of the suit hire was expensive, but Eric Morecambe agreed to furnish the cast with hired Moss Bros suits, and they duly turned up at the venue. A charity raffle was announced, and my friend shied away, realising that he wouldn’t have enough money to pay for his ticket. Morecambe smiles across the table and patted his chest; on the inside pocket of each jacket, he’d secretly placed a sum of money for each of them to spend, sparing their blushes, and anticipating their need before they knew it themselves.
Eric and Ernie are probably still seen as the apex of British comedy, the Beatles who united a nation behind some simple comic gags. Unfortunately, none of their three 1960’s films caught that right vibe; Clive Owen’s The Magnificent Two is probably the best of the bunch. Set in the South American country of Parazueillia, it sees the duo as innocents abroad, specifically up to their necks in danger in a banana republic where, to quote Eric, ‘they change their president more often than most football clubs change their manager.’ Eric is mistaken for the next president, having accidentally disposed of the real generalissimo during a train journey, and much of the comedy follows in a familiar vein with Eric having remarkable success in leading the country, notably in a tv address where the autocue fails and Eric generously offers the downtrodden all kind of blandishments, from tax relief to free wigs and false teeth.
The Magnificent Two has a strange edge; people die, guns and grenades go off, and Eric and Ernie end up rescuing some children from execution, as if such plot devices were necessary to make audiences like them. But such overkill doesn’t obscure some nice comic timing, and a neat recurring joke in which the boys’ conversation about the Action Man toys they’re selling is mistaken for political planning. Viewed on the new Britbox streaming channel, The Magnificent Two will disappoint those looking for the immaculate timing, fourth-wall breaks and transcendent gags with made their tv shows a national institution, but there are still remnants of the old patter here that make this a watchable, if not classic affair.