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Billy Liar - Criterion Collection

Julie Christie , John Schlesinger    DVD
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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4.3 out of 5 stars
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3.0 out of 5 stars For Julie Christie fans Jan. 21 2010
Format:VHS Tape
Tom Courtenay stars as Billy, an unhappy clerk who still lives at home with his impatient family. To escape the drudgery of his life, Billy passes the time telling outrageous lies and fantasizing about his very own country where he is the beloved ruler and war hero.

I must admit I didn't know this movie was considered a comedy until I read some reviews. While the fantasy sequences are certainly amusing, Billy's day-to-day existence is lonely, unfulfilling, and depressing. I found Tom Courtenay to be adequate but dull and unsympathetic. On the other hand, Julie Christie is remarkably confident, mature, and charismatic and the screen really lights up during her few scenes. The black and white movie was one of the first in the sixties to feature the working class in all it's gritty glory. (I wish the DVD had had subtitles to help me with the thick north-of-England accents.)

The movie is similar to Danny Kaye's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, but the humour is much more subtle. I thought the dramatic scenes lacked heart-felt pathos and I never liked or felt sorry for Billy. Watch it for its place in British film history and for the screen debut of the lovely Miss Christie.
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"Billy Liar" was made in 1963 three years after my birth and I can just remember Britian being like this; but it is not just a nostalgia trip. This is a beautifully executed piece of film making works from the opening, when we see a nation's homemakers brought together by the BBC's "Housewife's Choice", to the end when the battered and degected Billy walks up the hill to his parents semi-detached house at the head of his make believe army.
In between we get to witness Billy's fantastic imagination at work vividly brought to life in mock news-reel form and the chaos of his real life as his past mistakes catch up and eventually overwelm him.
The central problem Billy faces is one that most if not all young people experience at some time; the desire to do something great and become important and the feeling that they are being constrained and inhibited by the older generation's lack of vision.
It is not easy to distinguish who is responsible for what. The writers Wallis Hall and Keith Waterhouse obviously deserve a great deal of credit as they also wrote the novel and stage play but John Schlesenger's direction and the superb cast bring the film to life.
Schlesenger came from a BBC television background and the opening sequence as well as the Danny Boon character seem very authentic. Danny Boon, played by Leslie Randall, is the type of British comedian that used to and in some cases still does, present game shows on television in the UK complete with irritating catch phrases and over fimiliarity with middle aged women. Intrestingly Wilfred Pickels, who plays Billy's father, was previously best known for his radio quiz show "Have a Go" but he is now best remembered for his roll here.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging, Entertaining, Thoughtful, Cinematic Sept. 7 2001
I am full of admiration for Schlesinger's film. It stands in a tradition of many great British movies that managed to make something truly cinematic out of stage material (another outstanding example would be David Lean's 1945 'Brief Encounter').
The film follows a young man of 19 by the name of Billy Fisher. In the small Yorkshire town of Stradhoughton (fictional I am sure), Billy copes with the mundanity of everyday life by creating for himself an inner world of fantasy to which he retreats continually. Courtenay is superb as the perpetual liar and daydreamer, and the supporting cast is equally excellent. Denys Coop's photography. Is reminiscent of the French New Wave, particularly the opening scenes which echo the opening of Truffaut's 'Les 400 Coups,' the beautiful scenes of Julie Christie as she skips her way through the streets, and the final shots of Billy's street which have a 'cinema verite' look. The editing, especially in the fantasy sequences, brings a uniquely cinematic dimension to what could have easily been done in a more cliched style.
Schlesinger presents a very moving, and very human, fable. Towards the end, as Billy marches through the empty streets, humming the last post, following the death of his grandmother, there is a real air of pathos. Similarly, we get interesting insights into the character of Billy as, waiting to board the train to London, he clutches two cartons of milk to his chest, a touching maternal symbol. Again, there are clear echoes of the scene in Truffaut's 'Les 400 Coups' in which the young Antoine Doinel steals, having run away from home, steals a bottle of milk from a doorway.
This is not to say that the film is an incredibly sophisticated look into characters and personalities, but it touches upon some very human and profound moments.
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