If you ever want to annoy a Hammer fan, one of the surest ways to do so is draw attention to their comedy product from the early 1970s and the fact that it was these films, more than the better known Gothics, which sustained the company for a few more years thanks to their box office success.
The horror, the horror...
This, moreover, was despite attracting absolutely no positive critical attention and an inherently smaller market due to UK television sitcom spin-offs having absolutely no prospect of US distribution.
Seen today, however, there is an obvious difference between Hammer’s horror output, especially in the Bray Studios period, and their comedy work. For while the best of the horror films manage to be both aesthetic and sociologically interesting, the comedies are only worth looking at symptomatically for what they reveal about British culture and society of the time. They are visually flat and largely devoid of style. As 90 minute films based on 30 minute sitcoms they also tend to be quite weak at the structural and narrative levels.
The themes of gender, class, race, and sexuality are however much the same across the generic divide, although the specifics obviously vary film by film. In this instance race is primary and class secondary with the other two hardly featuring at all.
This is a reflection of the source material. For the situation in Love thy Neighbour is one of two couples, one black and the other white, living next door to one another. While the two women, Barbie and Joan, get on well enough, their respective husbands, Bill and Eddie, are at loggerheads.
What makes things interesting here, however, is the way in which race and class intersect. Bill is more (aspiring to become) middle class and a Conservative supporter, while Eddie is working class and a Labour supporter. From a present-day perspective, however, his politics, as expressed in language – lots of use of racist epithets like Sambo and Nig-Nog – and deeds – including painting racist graffiti on Bill and Barbie’s front door and windows – seem more like the things an extreme right-winger would get up to.
Simultaneously, however, the film also significantly indicates that racial prejudice is not exclusively confined to whites, albeit generally with Bill responding to Eddie rather than initiating things. The film also clearly raises the subject in order to attempt at least some sort of critique, however unsatisfactory it may be to today’s sensibilities. In this regard it’s also worth noting that Eddie clearly has designs on Barbie. Love – or at least lust – see no colour, indeed.
The male gaze #271
Given all of this, the most awkward aspect of Love thy Neighbour is probably one of the incidental details, in the form of a white man in brownface wearing a towel-type turban and affecting an 'Indian' accent.
It ain't half racist mum
Fans of Hammer’s horror output might just about justify a viewing on the basis of a scene in which Bill and some of the other black workers make it look like they are going to cook and eat Eddie.