Will anyone want to see an obscure 37-year-old British movie about a beer-and-gin-swilling alcoholic uncle who recklessly takes his 5-year-old...
Will anyone want to see an obscure 37-year-old British movie about a beer-and-gin-swilling alcoholic uncle who recklessly takes his 5-year-old polio-stricken niece out for a dreadfully rainy day at the beach? Any fair-minded reviewer is likely to say, “Well, it’s not exactly a day at the beach, y’know?”
But “A Day at the Beach” is definitely one of those lost-and-found oddities that deserves to be seen, if not remembered. If nothing else, a screenplay by Roman Polanski and an amusing cameo appearance by Peter Sellers make this forgotten film an attraction for the morbidly curious.
Sellers is anonymously credited as “A. Queen” for his brief role as the lascivious gay proprietor of a beachfront kiosk, and that’s enough to earn “A Day at the Beach” a footnote in movie history, along with Polanski’s curiously florid adaptation of a Dutch novel that nobody’s ever heard of. In his 1984 autobiography, Polanski states that he wrote the screenplay “for lack of anything better to do.” He nearly directed the film as well, but Simon Hesera — whose first and only feature this is — got the job. Upon seeing the finished product (filmed by Gil Taylor, the cinematographer of “Star Wars”), Paramount shelved the film, later citing “faulty paperwork” for its long-term disappearance.
Polanski was editing the film in London when his wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by Charles Manson’s disciples in Los Angeles. And Polanski’s 1977 arrest for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl would surely have tainted any revival of a Polanski-scripted film about the world’s most irresponsible uncle.
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It was perhaps inevitable that “A Day at the Beach” would eventually resurface, and it’s definitely an artifact of its time, when major studios would finance unsettling and unconventional films if there was hot talent involved — and Paramount was still flush from the success of Polanski’s 1968 hit, “Rosemary’s Baby.”
The film itself is a mixed bag at best. While Uncle Bernie (Mark Burns) gets increasingly drunk and his leg-braced niece Winnie (first-timer Beatrice Edney, daughter of Sylvia Sims and still a working actress) wanders in and out of potential danger, this sodden drama takes a few interesting detours, mostly designed to show how blithely self-absorbed adults fall into various states of personal and professional disarray.
It’s oddly funny in a whistling-through-the-graveyard kind of way, but it’s never much fun. By the time Uncle Bernie passes out completely, it’s obvious that poor Winnie is pretty much on her own. Then again, she has been all along. If there had ever been a sequel to “A Day at the Beach,” we can only hope it would’ve involved the punishment of her parents.
Jeff Shannon: firstname.lastname@example.org