On The Fiddle is a 1961 film starring Alfred Lynch and Sean Connery. Shot in black and white, this 90-minute comedy focuses on the story of Horace Pope (Lynch), a young scammer who ends up being roped into the RAF and making friends with Pedlar Pascoe (Connery), a strong silent gypsy with more of a conscience than his new friend. The pair wind up getting into more trouble than they bargain for, but not before spending some time on the lam, and all their time on the fiddle. 52 years later, the film has been re-mastered and is due for re-release on 22 April.
On The Fiddle does a great job, from a modern perspective, of balancing its historical curiosity value against its genuine worth as a comedy film. As with most comedies of this era, On The Fiddle loses a couple of jokes in translation to a modern-day audience – but the hit-count of jokes that play as well today as they did 50 years ago is surprisingly high. Even some of the clangers have a novelty value that almost makes them worth seeing anyway.
The narrative structure is also likely to be unfamiliar to a modern audience; as Popey and Pascoe travel around the country getting involved in various hijinks, there’s very little opportunity for much of a continuous story to develop. The film proceeds through a number of episodes, of which very few actually advance the plot. In fact, there are really very few plot points at all – but this allows a refreshing break from the rigorously structured storylines commonly offered in the films of today, which I think is among the film’s greatest charms. On The Fiddle has no pretence to being an epic narrative; it’s a comedy, and it more or less eschews storyline in favour of laughs. I think that’s fair enough.
Connery and Lynch actually make quite an intriguing double-act, and pull of the vast majority of their gags with great success. There are even a few moments of physical comedy, which are very well-managed, even if the focus of cinema was shifting away from such gags at that time. There’s little in the way of pathos, but Pascoe’s nagging doubts about the morality of Pope’s schemes do eventually carry the story into a quick but emotionally engaging conclusion. The end of the film is still refreshingly relaxed in its moralising, however, and this ends up being a much more thoughtful offering than you would first suspect.
To sum up
On The Fiddle is a fascinating piece of cinematic history, and its revival will allow audiences to see a film that helped launch one of the greatest film careers of our time – that of Sean Connery. It is also a film ripe for re-release, which contemporary audiences young and old will find accessible and enjoyable; it’s the perfect balance of vintage cinema and classic comedy, and it’s well worth a watch if you’re remotely interested in either.