Graham Chapman and David Jason in The Odd Job.
Graham Chapman had the least successful solo career of all the members of the comedy group, Monty Python. He worked on a variety of projects, but only starred in two movies of his own. Yellowbeard was his magnum opus, but in 1978 he produced, co-wrote and starred in The Odd Job, a small film that was never released outside of the United Kingdom.
The plot is simple and features a gimmick that has been used in other films. Chapman plays Arthur Harris, a man who comes home on his fifth wedding anniversary to learn that his wife is leaving him. He becomes so depressed that he decides to commit suicide. Before he can work up the nerve to do it, a man (David Jason) knocks on his door asking if he needs any odd jobs done. Arthur decides it would be easier if someone else killed him and hires the Odd Job man to do it for him. They agree it will be easiest on Arthur if he doesn't see it coming and so the Odd Job man will surprise Arthur in the next couple of days. Naturally, the next day Arthur's wife returns to him and he changes his mind about dying. The rest of the film is simply Arthur trying to avoid the Odd Job man until he can convince him that he really doesn't want to die anymore.
While the humor starts strong, even at just 87 minutes, the one-joke premise is stretched pretty thin. The plot is a remake of a half hour television episode written for Ronnie Barker as part of a comedy anthology series he made in 1972. Edited down to just 30 minutes, I'm sure it was quite funny, but there's just not enough material for a full length feature.
David Jason, known mostly in the US for playing Frost on PBS's Mystery, but everywhere else for playing Del Boy in the long running and successfull BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses, plays the Odd Job man. He's the only actor to reprise his role from the original television version. He and Chapman play well off of each other in the scene where they set up the idea, especially when he tries to strangle Arthur "by surprise".
The funniest scene in the film takes place when Arthur's wife tells him that she's leaving. It contains some very Monty Pythonish dialogue and goes like this:
Fiona: I'm leaving you.
Arthur: When are you coming back?
Fiona: I'm not. I'm going for good.
Arthur: What? What for?
Fiona: We're just not getting on.
Arthur: Not getting on? We happen to be very happily married.
Fiona: We're not.
Arthur: I am.
Fiona: I'm not!
Arthur: Oh, I see, it's not a question of we're not happily married, it's you! Why not?
Fiona: We always seem to be arguing.
Fiona: We're arguing now.
Arthur: No, we're not. We're discussing.
Fiona: We're arguing!
Arthur: I won't let you get me into an argument by insisting we're arguing.
George Innes, who plays the racist caretaker of the apartment building where Arthur lives, also provides some laughs. Like the dialogue scene above though, all of his best bits are at the beginning. The final two-thirds of the film, where Arthur tries to avoid the Odd Job man, is more flat and far less funny. The downer ending is also a real comedy killer.
A mildly amusing little film that just runs too long, The Odd Job is only likely to be of interest to fans of Monty Python and Graham Chapman in particular.
Graham Chapman as Arthur Harris in The Odd Job.
Yes, even at less than 90 minutes the meager plot is stretched thin. Although the way the story escalates by having the Odd Job man killing off several other people he mistakes for Arthur Harris is quite funny and kept my attention right up till the unexpected ending. Graham Chapman spends most of the movie cautiously peering around every corner and jumping at his own shadow.
Graham Chapman may have been the least successful Python member outside of the troupe but he was also one of the most hilarious. His reactions and facial expressions are priceless (see photo). He gets the best lines. The scene Scott mentioned where the Odd Job man tries to strangle Arthur "by surprise" is very funny.
When he defends his technique by explaining that he didn't tell Arthur he was going to attack him beforehand, Arthur replies in an exasperated voice, “But I saw you coming at me.” Earlier, over the phone, he tells his estranged wife that he is going to swallow the bottle of tablets in the bathroom cabinet. She calmly tells him that they are just aspirins and that there are only 5 left in the bottle. “That's still 3 more than the recommended dosage.” he curtly replies.
One thing that dates this movie is the casual use of nudity. In one scene Arthur gets drunk and then goes to a neighbor woman's flat for sex to deal with his depression over his wife's abandonment. There is an extended gratuitous nude scene of the sort that was popular in the 1970s and 80s but has since fallen out of fashion. What was titillating and liberating then now seems like old hat, especially with the proliferation and easy accessibility of internet porn.
I was unfamiliar with David Jason as I've never seen an episode of either Only Fools and Horses or PBS's Mystery. He is quite funny though with his befuddled manner and blundering attempts to murder Arthur. He handles the slapstick humor with panache.
The Odd Job is a funny idea that I agree probably worked better at sitcom length. Still it made me laugh out loud a few times and Graham Chapman's reactions and double-takes are reason enough to watch this silly little film.
Photos © Copyright Charisma Films (1978)