On The Buses was a popular and indeed populist British TV sitcom of the late 1960s/early 1970s and, as was common at the time, spawned a number of spin-off films which were either extensions of the premise or else rehashes with two or three episodes strung together and re-enacted as a film. In the main, they were inferior to the original product- startlingly so in many cases- but On The Buses was actually a little better.
What distinguishes the film isn’t any greater sophistication, loftier ambition or production values- it is the budget. For a programme about a bus driver and his conductor (and their bawdy shenanigans) being unable to stretch to many external shoots obviously prevented logistical and writing difficulties. In the film, however, we see Stan crashing his bus into a phone box and a bus shelter. We see him take a driving test on a skid pan, injuring Blakey in the process, and we get to see Stan and Jack trick several women drivers into driving their buses onto the motorway. Hilarity prevails! Okay, so I’m being a little facetious but it is still enjoyable in its own way.
I had a really interesting conversation with a guy about British cinema in the 70s last year. He completely wrote it off. He pointed to the sex comedies and sit-com spin-offs and contrasted it to what was coming out of Hollywood at the time. When a man says “while Michael was having Fredo whacked we were watching Robin Askwith hiding in wardrobes“, then you have to concede that he has a point. But the argument was skewed, that was the best Hollywood would ever get and British cinema was in a rut but still produced the likes of Get Carter, The Go-Between, Sunday Bloody Sunday, The Wicker Man, Barry Lyndon, Paper Tiger and Don’t Look Now. On top of this I argued, and still argue, that there is some merit in the likes of On The Buses. Movies, it is sometimes forgotten, are made to entertain and this is an entertaining movie. The characters, familiar from the TV show, are well-drawn (if a little one-dimensional) and played consummately- not least by the underrated Michael Robbins who plays Arthur. The storyline, which was little more than an excuse to string together some gags and the action sequences above, is actually pretty interesting and resonant of the time. Future historians would do well to dig out On The Buses and Carry On At Your Convenience if they want to learn all about Britain at the time.
The bus company, being understaffed are exploited by the drivers who do not have to fear the sack. They choose to recruit women drivers and the men (portrayed as the heroes) try and force them out so that they can go back to their cushy, well-paid lifestyles. In the meantime they are still successfully chatting up every attractive young girl in sight despite being middle-aged, out of shape and unattractive (Jack’s teeth!). What makes it so resonant is the ‘battle of the sexes’ angle- more specifically the blatantly sexist way that it is portrayed. It’s all done in good fun and there’s no malice to get offended about; if you believe anyone would take seriously a film that suggests all women are moaners who are afraid of spiders and have no road sense then you’ve got bigger problems than this cheeky number.
The point is that this is low and sometimes painfully telegraphed humour, but funny nonetheless. Is it any less worthy than, say, the films of Mel Brooks? 5/10