The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer (1970) Review

I’ve not met a single person to have heard of this film. The only reason I know of it is because I lucked out on finding a copy in a charity shop years ago, and have only just gotten round to watching it. My impulse buying sometimes pays off, especially when I’m left with the likes of The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer, a comedy film from the at-the-time little know writers John Cleese and Graham Chapman. With an all-star cast of 60s comedy legends including Ronnie Corbett and Peter Cook (who plays our titular Michael Rimmer), the film is a source of untapped potential, both in its comic timing and political satire.  

Cook’s leading role sees him take on the mysterious Michael Rimmer, a man who shows up at a small advertising agency and rapidly works his way up through the chain of power until landing himself cushy positions, feverish public adoration and murky details on the lives of the most important politicians.  It’s everything on my ever-changing checklist of things in film that I find somewhat interesting. Cook doesn’t so much steal the show as linger in the corners. The charismatic supporting performers portray a nice, lively and gruesome world of politics, with Rimmer’s ever staunch face blending into the rafters with ease. He becomes a puppet master of politicians, and it’s an incredibly entertaining process to follow.

It wouldn’t be a Cleese and Chapman collaboration without a handful of whimsically charming scenes. The Buddhists of Nuneaton is a strong contender for some of their best non-Python work, and a handful of lines and brief situations that arise throughout the film are nothing short of comedy gold. At times the film feels more like an exercise in what could be funny rather than something finely tuned to appease all audiences, but the rough nature of the film and the few duds within make the standout moments all the more memorable.

Most of the comedy comes from the vibrant personalities we find in the supporting roles, rather than that of the lead. To give credit where it’s due, Cook is the only straight man in an otherwise hilariously comical world of stereotypes, satire and style. His ardent seriousness is a tremendously important part of the film, a performance that needs to be enjoyable enough to care about his trajectory, but cold enough to induce some comical moments between him and a vast cast of characters. Denholm Elliot in particular comes out of The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer rather nicely.

Nothing short of British brilliance, The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer is a gold mine of forgotten comedic lines, excellent storytelling execution and provides a very nice showcase for the promising talent of the time. Cameos and walk-ins of some very famous faces who, at the time, were struggling to get their work anywhere, is always nice to see. At its best, The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer is a showcase of upcoming talent, in a world where we know exactly how great they became. But at its worst, it’s a tad flimsy with its fair share of absent laughter.

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