AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 88 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Stan gets a little annoyed when his mum and sister keep buying expensive items on hire purchase, but the money he earns for overtime working as a bus driver means that he can afford it – until the bus company decides to revoke a long standing rule and employ women bus drivers. The loss of overtime causes Stan to persuade his sister Olive to work in the canteen, but she gets pregnant, forcing the Butler family to send back the items they can’t afford to pay for. Stan decides to join forces with his long time work colleague Jack to sabotage the new employment scheme….
So after a decade or so it’s back to comedy for Hammer. I suppose I ought to feel ashamed that I quite enjoyed On The Buses, given the plethora of sexual harassment stories that have been making news headlines of late. The women in On The Buses are continually treated as sex objects and sometimes subjected to what would now be called indecent assault – well, that is the ones who are “lookers”. The ones who aren’t – the female bus drivers and the dim Olive who almost destroys the canteen due to her incompetence – are just constantly insulted. And yet [readers who worship the cult of political correctness should perhaps not read any further], while I found the odd moment to be a bit uncomfortable when viewed through modern eyes, I actually found this film rather refreshing and an antidote to the prevalent man bashing in much modern comedy where you can insult and objectify males but not females, otherwise the feminazi, PC mob will tear you apart. I’m sorry, but I both chuckled and almost cheered during the opening scene, where a pretty girl is standing on the front of the bus changing the number and three guys come along who can almost see up her skirt, causing this exchange: “Hello darling”. “Hello, is it alright”? “Nothing a bit….oh that’s lovely that is” [as the girl moves a bit higher so he can see more]. And it’s worth noting that the idiotic men do often get their comeuppance.
This film, based on a hit TV series, was Hammer’s biggest box office hit of the 1970’s, and at the very least should probably be regarded as a fairly accurate snapshot of British working class life in the early 1970’s. Not dissimilar to the later Carry On movies, it’s continually obsessed by sex, our hero constantly being foiled in his attempts to get some and his ugly, toothy sidekick being unaccountably a great success with the ladies, yet there’s an innocence about it all – for a start you never see anything – and there’s also plenty of slapstick that would entertain the kids while the double entendres fly over their heads. I’ve never seen the TV series, but it seems that this film version is virtually the same and certainly features much of the same cast. Reg Varney, who reminded me of Kenneth Connor in the Carry Ons, is likeable despite displaying outdated sexist attitudes and being far too old, though for me Stephen Lewis steals the show as the dumn, wannabe-Hitler Blakey, who of course is outwitted at every turn by Stan and Jack, who aren’t above using their buses for their own personal use, plus placing spiders in the female driver’s cabs and placing laxative pills in their tea. It’s mostly amusing rather than hilarious, there are a few dead spots, and there’s no real climax, but such comedy of a bygone age should really be cherished rather than vilified – but then we live in a time in which Paul Feig films get good reviews.