The Naked Truth
aka Your Past is Showing
We’re all – or should be – familiar with the idea that the Elite/TPTB have their claws embedded in the great and not so good via that old favourite of “the goods”, or dirt. For the most part, their goods, or dirt, are sure to make anything Dennis Price – himself rumoured to have been the victim of blackmail at various points – has his mitts on in The Naked Truth look positively innocuous. But what Mario Zampi’s movie may lack in authentic grimness, it more than makes up for by being very, very funny. Admittedly, that’s more down to a fine cast and screenplay than his own virtuosity, but neither should his dependability in capturing it all be denied.
Sonny Macgregor: Oh yes, sir. I er got the creeping alopecia, sir. Yes sir, it crept all over my lip, it did. Yes sir.
Pauline Kael paid Michael Pertwee quite the compliment when she suggested his “comedy scripts are sometimes based on such nifty ideas that the films are moderately entertaining despite indifferent directing”. You can tell that was high praise, right? Brother of the more famous Jon (who appeared in Michael’s adaptation of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), Pertwee wrote or co-wrote a string of well-received comedies during the 1950s (along with some less notable thrillers); this, Laughter in Paradise and Too Many Crooks, were all Zampi productions.
Lord Mayley: It’s a lie.
Lady Mayley: What is?
Lord Mayley: Whatever she says I’ve done.
As Kael noted, the key in these cases is a great premise, but equally important is being able to follow the ideas through to their conclusion. As with Laughter in Paradise, The Naked Truth revolves around an ensemble, each party affected by a central orchestrator of events. Here, Price’s Nigel Dennis is the prospective publisher of the titular scandal magazine. Prospective, as he promises to withhold publication if his victims provide suitable recompense. He may have happened upon all the juicy details (we never learn quite how), but he clearly hasn’t been making a mint thus far; he lives on a rundown house boat and drives a tiny Heinkel Kabine microcar.
Policeman: What have you got in there, a body?
Flora Ransom: Yes, how did you guess? My daughter just murdered him.
Policeman: Poisoned or suffocated?
Flora Ransom: Both, I’m afraid.
Pertwee’s premise makes no bones about where such machinations can lead, opening with headlines relating to other Dennis victims who either took their lives (“Brilliant scientist shot dead”) or succumbed to the stress of blackmail (“Minister collapses in the Commons”). The more likely naked truth is that, if an independent – as opposed to establishment/TPTB – blackmailer was operating on their own recognisees in such circles, they would likely be firmly dealt with by the police or security services, charged as they are with maintaining the secrecy of anything scurrilous taking place in the corridors of power (and so making a habit of failing to carry through prosecutions relating to grievous behaviour). Nevertheless, Dennis’ scattershot approach produces an entertaining selection of targets from different walks of life.
Flora Ransom: He’s one of those plainclothes brutes, disguised as an ordinary policeman!
The main quartet are: model Melissa Right (Shirley Eaton, whose career was much more promising prior to being sprayed gold), under the threat of her imminent marriage to a Texas millionaire (Bill Edwards) being scuppered; TV host and slum landlord Sonny MacGregor (decidedly unCaledonian offstage and played by Peter Sellers); successful novelist Flora Ransom (Peggy Mount) who once had a wild time – “I was young, beautiful, and it was easy, and so was I”; Lord Henry Mayley (everyone’s favourite rotter Terry-Thomas), partial to illicit affairs. Albeit, Lady Lucy Mayley (Georgina Cookson) is under no illusions about his carry ons.
Flora Ransom: Ask no questions, aye?
Policeman: It’s our duty, madam. We’re police officers.
Eaton’s plotline is arguably rather ho-hum, and if one were cynical, one would say the character was only included to ensure a totty count. Edwards’ Texas accent leaves a lot to be desired, and Melissa’s on-again off-again trajectory isn’t especially inspired. The other three, though.
Peggy Mount, aided and unabetted by a superb pre-Carry On Joan Sims as her simpering daughter Mary (“Oh, mumsie!”), is hilariously gung-ho in her determination to take down Dennis, preferably by means of administering a Mickey Finn. Her initial endeavours, down the pub, are hampered by an attempt to procure one from a couple of plainclothes police officers. When she does eventually get hold of some, her laced liqueur is downed by the unfortunate Lord Mayley, in a case of mistaken identity, meaning Dennis now has the goods on a murder (as both Dennis and Flora perceive it to be this point). Mary’s escalating hysteria at mumsie’s behaviour is note perfect and suggest Sims was sadly wasted in Carry On for the next two decades.
Porter: Frankly, you always overact dreadfully.
MacGregor hosts the particularly unsavoury Wee Sonny Macgregor Show; he brings on guests, dresses as them and then ritually takes the piss to an audience in complete fits. Think Sacha Baron Cohen’s oeuvre, and you’re on the right track in terms of unedifying antics (one such guest is the magnificently dissipated Wilfrid Lawson).
Sellers is absolutely in his element here, delivering a succession of crap disguises (that nevertheless manage to fool everyone but the Irish, the odd drooping moustache aside) and crapper accents (again, failing to convince the Irish). He initially shuns any collaboration with other offended parties, going at it alone despite the warnings of fey assistant Kenneth Griffith. One such incident finds Macgregor trying to saw through Dennis’ gangplank (Lord Mayley, naturally, ends up in the drink); Sellers’ boat-inspector disguise – “I come back to tell you I reported your leaky bottom for you, sir” – is remarkably similar to his dentist in The Pink Panther Strikes Again.
Sonny Macgregor: Tis the Albert Hall at all, and we’ve run right out of the jelly.
Macgregor then hits on the idea of using a bomb (“I suppose you’d have to go to Ireland for that”) in a jaunt that initially meets with limited success. This requires gunpowder (“What bore?” he is asked when he goes to buy ammunition; “A few rabbits, pheasants, small fry” he advises, entirely misunderstanding the vendor).
Lady Mayley: By the way, one of your girls has been telephoning.
Lord Mayley: Really, which one? I mean, what do you mean, “one of my girls”?
Best of all is Terry-Thomas, though (it’s fun seeing T-T and Sellers share a scene, but for me, for all the latter’s wealth of tricks, Thomas steals the spotlight every time). There’s a marvellous double act going on with Cookson’s Lady Lucy, she ever more sarcastic as he becomes ever more exasperated at her suspicions. He is, after all, not guilty of any sordid goings on with Melissa, merely plotting with her. His coming in at all hours increasingly wet – first from falling into the drink outside Dennis’ houseboat, then having his body dumped by the Ransoms – leads to this exchange:
Lord Mayley: I’ve got to go out again.
Lady Mayley: Where to this time? The Serpentine?
Eventually, all parties agree to work together, eliciting yet more confusion as Mayley and Macgregor record an alibi conversation of the former advising on insurance so the latter can bump off Dennis (Price is gleefully and casually unapologetic in his nefariousness throughout). Lucy is bemused whenever she hears these circular conversations emanating from the study. Even more so when Sonny arrives outside the door while one is taking place inside:
Lady Mayley: Henry, do you and Mr MacGregor want breakfast?
Lord Mayley (from within): Just a minute, I’ll ask him.
Lady Mayley: No, I’ll ask him. He’s out here with me.
The climax revolves around Lord Mayley doing it his way, on the basis that there are hundreds of loyal allies – fellow blackmail subjects – in all strata of life more than willing to pitch in. Which, of course, is exactly the response those who really pull the strings are betting against.
Lord Mayley (reading some scandalous Dennis dirt): Good heavens! Sir Hutton Eastbrook! He’s on my board of directors. He’ll have to go. We can’t employ disgusting people like that.
Adrian Turner (in Time Out) called The Naked Truth “…much funnier and arguably more authentic than Scandal”. And he has a point. Zampa’s pictures arguably aren’t finessed in the manner of Ealing or the Boultons, but at their best, with this kind of cast and writing, they can happily stand shoulder to shoulder.