August 23rd, 2004

Three

We've stolen the wrong dinosaur!

If One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing! was being made now, it would feature Jackie Chan instead of Peter Ustinov, and it wouldn't be as funny. Not because a large number of suspiciously Caucasian Chinese are particularly amusing, but because it may have been the last gasp of the uncynical comedy set in the days of empire and servants (just after the First World War).

I was a bit surprised to find that the film was made in 1975, as I had always thought it might have been up to ten years older. In 1975, the U.K. was on the brink of change. Punk had a foot in the door and a gob up the hallway, and Thatcher's children were only a few years from being born.

So Disney's One Of Our Dinosaurs is Missing! was probably looking dated even as a period comedy at the time it was made. Still, several of the most successful comedies are pastiches of the past, Dad's Army and Blackadder being the obvious examples.

I sat happily through this movie in one sitting, a courtesy that not all my purchases have been receiving recently, but comedies do have the advantage. This one is fast moving and doesn't really put a foot wrong. The heroines are nannies, taking on the martial artists of a mysterious Chinese organisation seeking to retrieve a secret formula. Derek Nimmo makes a very good ineffectual spy (explained by the movie's final twist), who has hidden the secret formula on the skeleton of a dinosaur in the Natural History Museum. Only the nannies can save the day by retrieving it, and in the process the whole dinosaur gets stolen and driven around the streets in a Sentinel steam lorry.

There is quite a number of big (British) names in this movie, but it's their characters that you see on screen, which is always a desirable thing! I was so engrossed that I completely failed to identify Jon Pertwee on first watching, even though I'd noticed his name in the credits and he gets several minutes on screen.

I'm afraid I have to report a serious temporal inaccuracy, as Nanny Hettie (Helen Hayes) reassures Nanny Emily (Joan Sims) that if the skeleton falls on them they'll be the first people killed by a dinosaur in two million years. Surely everyone knows that while homo sapiens might have been wandering around then, the dinosaurs died out 63 million years before that? I fear for the education of their children!

Scientific inaccuracies aside, this movie comfortably lives up to my youthful memories of it and I defy you not to watch with at least a smile on your face.