Unless you are a mad dog Anglophile who raises an evening pint to the Queen and sleeps in Union Jack pajamas, you should probably avoid “The Sandwich Man.” This 1966 comedy has very little appeal beyond the most extreme fans of British culture–and even within that niche market, this film is clearly an acquired taste.
Michael Bentine, one of the original stars of the BBC’s legendary radio series “The Goon Show” (which launched Peter Sellers’ career in the 1950s), plays the eponymous character: a gregarious East Ender whose job involves walking about London carrying a sandwich board advertising platter for the tailoring establishment of Finkelbaum and O’Casey (and that is actually one of the funnier gags in the film!). During the course of the day, the Sandwich Man encounters a seemingly endless variety of Londoners from every level of Britain’s ossified class structure. We have the upper class twits, the earthy laborers, comic relief foreigners, self-absorbed mod swingers, dubious buskers and stoic police constables who unleash frantic emotions in anyone they stop.
The main problem with “The Sandwich Man” is a fairly significant one: most of the film is painfully unfunny. Bentine, co-writing the screenplay with director Robert Hartford-Davis, created a tired mix of labored slapstick, weak satire, and frequently offensive racial humor (a running gag involving a pair of bumbling Sikh musicians dragging their instruments across the city is astonishing in its cruelty). The film quickly devolves into a hit-and-miss sketch comedy, with an emphasis on the “miss,” and Bentine (a funny man in his own right) has little to do here but stand on the sidelines and watch in either awe or amusement at the variety of pratfalls, tired one-liners, and lame situations around him.
There are only two reasons to check into “The Sandwich Man”: the film is stuffed with a high number of cameo appearances by stars of the British film and TV orbit (Terry-Thomas, Dora Bryan, Diana Dors, Norman Wisdom, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Ron Moody, Alfie Bass, Suzy Kendall, Burt Kwouk, Anna Quayle, Harry H. Corbett, Michael Chaplin, Frank Finlay and Bernard Cribbins turn up), and the film offers a pleasant travelogue view of London. If you don’t mind watching some fine actors involved in second-rate comedy, you can get some memorable glimpses of the West End, Soho, Trafalgar Square, the Embankment, and other wonderful London locations.
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