ONLY TWO CAN PLAY
(director: Sidney Gilliat; screenwriters: from the novel “That Uncertain Feeling” by Kingsley Amis/Bryan Forbes; cinematographer: John Wilcox; editor: Thelma Connell; music: Richard Rodney Bennett; cast: Peter Sellers (John Lewis), Mai Zetterling (Elizabeth Gruffydd-Williams), Virginia Maskell (Jean Lewis), Kenneth Griffith (Ieuan Jenkins), Raymond Huntley (Vernon), John Le Mesurier (Salter), Graham Stark (Hyman), Richard Attenborough (Gareth Probert), Marjie Edwards (Mrs. Davies), John Arnatt (Bill); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Leslie Gilliat; Columbia Pictures; 1962-UK)
“A cheerless farce with pretensions of being a kitchen sink drama.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Only Two Can Play is based on the novel “That Uncertain Feeling” by Kingsley Amis and written by Bryan Forbes. Sidney Gilliat (“The Constant Husband”/”Waterloo Road”/”Green For Danger”) directs and uses the theme that adultery is something that isn’t worth the effort when it’s easier to make one’s marriage work. It’s a cheerless farce with pretensions of being a kitchen sink drama, that has star Peter Sellers under wraps in this Ealing-type of comedy that has trouble deciding whether it wants to be a light comedy or a biting satire. The result is a pic that tries to say something about why marriages go south, but ends up saying little that isn’t facile.
John Lewis (Peter Sellers) is the lecherous middle-aged family man (with two small children) assistant librarian in the provincial Welsh town of Aberdacy, who is bored with his lowly and poorly paid position and takes for granted his agreeable lovely homebody wife Jean (Virginia Maskell). The glamorous Elizabeth Gruffydd-Williams (Mai Zetterling), the unfaithful wife of the town’s influential Councillor and head of the library committee, one day bounces into the library looking for a book on medieval costumes for research for a play put on by the community theater, and she connects with the librarian. They begin a tryst but can’t close the deal because her hubby Vernon (Raymond Huntley) unexpectedly appears at home and when they skip a theater performance to go out to the country to have sex a cow gets in the way of their love making; furthermore the play was not performed because the theater burned down and John’s bogus review of the play for the local paper gets him fired as a reviewer. But Liz uses her influence with her hubby to put the fix in that John gets the vacant head librarian’s job. But when John sees how overbearing Liz is and how she will treat him like her lap dog, he opts to turn down the position that comes with a big pay raise and instead reconnects with his wife as they both work together in a mobile library that visits a different spot in the sticks every fortnight. On this job, Jean’s able to curb John’s wandering eye of lust.
There’s nothing here to get hot and bothered over, as it’s more ordinary than it should be. But if plain realism is your bag of salt, then this one delivers mild ‘realistic’ comedy about such things as peeling wallpaper, nosy landlords, harmless lechery and bad plumbing.
REVIEWED ON 4/8/2008 GRADE: C+