Thursday, August 1, 2013

Cliff Richard and Susan Hampshire Lead a Wonderful Life

Singer Cliff Richard never achieved huge success in the U.S. despite scoring three top 10 records on the Billboard pop chart in the 1970s and 1980s. In contrast, he ranks as the third best-selling singles artist in Great Britain history--topped only by The Beatles and Elvis Presley. He also achieved movie stardom and hosted several television series in his homeland. Despite knowing all this, I wasn't sure what to expect when I recently watched Wondferful Life, a 1964 musical starring Cliff Richard and Susan Hampshire (a favorite since I saw her in The Pallisers a few years back). 

The nominal plot casts Richard and his pals as out-of-work waiters dumped in the Canary Islands after they cause damage to a cruise ship. Johnnie (Richard) gets a job as a stunt man on a desert "epic" being made by a washed-up director (Walter Slezak) hoping for a big comeback. As he romances his leading lady (Hampshire), Johnnie decides to secretly make his own movie with his chums as the crew.

Susan Hampshire.
By this point in his career, Cliff Richard had evolved from a rock star to a pop singer. His smooth voice wraps around the easygoing songs that frequently interrupt the story. The best tune--the spunky "On the Beach"--was the only hit from Wonderful Life, peaking at #7 on the British charts. However, the best musical number is "We Love a Movie", an affectionate ten-minute tribute to cinema that starts with Richard dressed as Chaplin and ends with he and Hampshire recreating a famous scene from Dr. No. Amid dozens of costume changes and numerous sets, there are clever homages to Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, The Jazz Singer, Greta Garbo, the Marx Brothers, Tarzan, Fred & Ginger, Shirley Temple, West Side Story and more. It's more entertaining than many of those clip-laden tributes shown during the Oscar telecast!

Cliff Richard as Connery and Susan Hampshire as Ursula Andress in Dr. No.
As a film star, Cliff Richard lacks the comedic charms of Frankie Avalon--but then Wonderful Life is a musical with a little comedy whereas Frankie's Beach Party films were comedies with music. Susan Hampshire, who would become a fine actress, relies mostly on her natural charm. She displays an agreeable singing voice in her duet "In the Stars" with Richard.

At 113 minutes, Wonderful Life (also known as Swingers' Paradise) overstays its welcome. The final musical number with Richard and Slezak seems especially labored. Overall, though, it's a pleasant 1960s musical and a nice introduction to the singing talents of Mr. Richard.


  1. Rick, I cannot imagine that there will be many people who have caught "Wonderful Life" but I am one of them. Like you, I adore Susan Hampshire. She won my heart in "The Forsyte Saga" and "The First Churchills" and "Living Free," to name a few. It was such a treat to catch her performance in "Wonderful Life" which even preceded "The Fighting Prince of Donegal."

    The person who really surprised me in "WL" was Cliff Richard who had a nice charisma and a wonderful singing voice. And talk about singing! "WL" must have about 40 songs in it.

    Like you, I was especially pleased with the segment featuring the cinema montage. That alone makes this a picture worth looking for and staying with in its unusual structure.

    Thanks for profiling a truly rare movie, Rick!

  2. If you want a truly enjoyable Cliff Richard movie, check out "Summer Holiday" - it's my favorite British movie musical (not that there's a HUGE selection to choose from...!) It's fun, enough plot to keep you going, and some really great songs. I've probably watched it 20 times by now and will probably watch it 20 times more before I'm done!