Canadian comic cuisine

Ham steak, overdone, thickly sliced

Published: Mar 03 2021, 01:01:am

Monday, March 17, 1974.

KEEP IT IN THE FAMILY. Written by Edward Stewart. Music by Paul Baillergeon. Edited and directed by Larry Kent. Running time: 91 minutes. Rated Mature.

COMEDY IS LIKE CUISINE. In France, and by extension French Canada, they like it light and saucy.
    In Britain and, again by extension, in English Canada there is a tendency towards heavier dishes, ham steak that's overdone and thickly sliced.
    Larry Kent, the South African-born filmmaker who made his first feature here in Vancouver 11 years ago [1963], is now living in Montreal. Unfortunately, he has decided to Carry On in the English tradition.
    Keep It in the Family, director Kent's seventh feature, is his first comedy. A smirking, coy sex farce, it is about as satisfying as another trip On the Buses.
    It didn’t have to be. Kent's initial idea, developed with screenwriter Edward Stewart, had some real comic possibilities.
    Their story introduces Karen (Adrienne La Russa) and Alex (Alan McRea), a couple of college students from upper income families living together in an inner city commune. Fed up with house rules, the kids decide they want to move into their own luxury love nest. They go to their respective parents to request the necessary financial handouts.
    The oldsters balk. "If you want to live in a slum, you have my blessing,” Alex's father, lawyer Roy McDonald (John Gavin), tells his son. “But don't expect me to set you up in a  penthouse."
    Thwarted, the spiteful children devise a fiendish revenge. Karen will promote an affair with Alex's father. He will do the same with her mother, Celia Sayers (Pat Gage).
    Naturally, things get out of hand with what are supposed to be comic results. The possibilities are there, and actress Gage valiantly attempts to bring out something like poignancy in the role of the mother who is caught in a comfortable but sexually empty marriage.
    She gets little support from either her director or her co-stars. Gavin stumbles through his performance in an amiable daze. Apparently he’s following Kent’s orders but, in doing so, he creates a character that is inconsistent from scene to scene.
    Their screen children, a pair of unattractive, joylessly clean-cut kids, are played with a sense of frantic discomfort by La Russa and McRae. The problem is that Kent has no feeling for comic development, mood or timing.
    Instead of starting with a cast of believable characters and letting them get their own laughs, he has superimposed a series of strained gags and formula slapstick situations on their story.
    Gavin, for no reason that’s ever explained in the script, does pratfalls. Marcel Fournier, playing a traffic cop, gets his pants torn off to reveal polka-dot shorts. There’s even a pie-in-the-face moment (in this case, a bowl of soft ice cream) delivered to Monica Parker, cast as Angela, a member of the kids’ commune family.
    The high point of the film should have been the high-speed chase involving Gavin and Gage, who never know that they are being pursued by Fournier, the accident-prone officer who loses both his patrol car and his sanity during the sequence. Like the pies and the pratfalls, it just happens, coming with neither buildup nor motivation.
    The sad part is that the chase is well done. In a properly constructed film — 1972’s What’s Up, Doc?, for example — the sequence would have been hilarious. The cop would have been introduced early in the film and developed as a running gag.
    Here, his efforts are wasted.
    Kent could have had 'em rolling in the aisles. Instead, he concentrates on turning his characters into overblown caricatures. Under his direction everyone overdoes it,  with the result that Keep It in the Family ends up looking like an overlong underarm deodorant commercial.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1974. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: The Internet is the wonder of our age. Until it isn’t. In common with mortal folk, it has memory lapses and embarrassing gaps in its information. Take, for example, the career of Patricia Gage, the star of Larry Kent’s made-in-Montreal comedy Keep It in the Family. I remembered her as a Vancouver stage actress who’d made her screen debut in a 1963 episode of TV’s The Littlest Hobo. Her first feature film role was in Larry Kent’s made-in-Vancouver 1965 drama When Tomorrow Dies. To my mind, she’s Canadian.
     Imagine my surprise to discover that, according to her eight-sentence Wikipedia biography, she “was a British actress.” That characterization, repeated over and over in online sources, appears based on the fact that she was born in Glasgow. Gage’s Wikipedia entry concludes with a “Selected filmography” of some 57 titles. Obsessive that I am, I checked out every one of them, and discovered that none is other than Canadian, American or a Canada-U.S. co-production. I then went on a frustrating  search for anything like an adequate online  biography or career summary.
     One source reminded me that she had a role in the Vancouver Playhouse’s landmark 1967 production of The Ecstasy of Rita Joe. Another said that she “married Paxton Whitehead on Jan 2, 1971,” and still another that Whitehead was a director at the Vancouver Playhouse from 1970 to 1973. Then I decided to go old school, and do some legwork. In this case, the walk was all the way to my garage, where there remain stacks of old (paper) press kits from the days when such packages were the way distributors promoted their movies to working critics.
     The envelope labelled Keep It in the Family included a brief biography of “Pat Gage” that noted that she “arrived in Canada from Glasgow, Scotland in 1959” (at the age of 19), and that emphasized her career as a stage actress. “Her latest role, with husband Paxton Whitehead, noted artistic director and actor, is the lead in You Never Can Tell, also starring Stanley Holloway, which will be performed before the Queen and the Prime Minister at Niagara-on-the-Lake on June 28, 1973.” Affirming that B.C. was her home, the summary concluded that “Miss Gage will soon be moving East to Ontario from Vancouver.”
    In the press kit for her 1974 feature, Why Rock the Boat, we’re told “she now lives in Niagara-on-the-Lake.” There, as it turns out, her husband was artistic director of the annual Shaw Festival from 1967-1977. It would be her home base for the rest of her four decade-long career, and where the Canadian actress died in 2010 at the age of 69.