On the Twelfth Day... (1955)

This should be a short review, but I think I can make it even shorter: you need to track this down and watch it. "On the Twelfth Day..." is a 20-minute British comedy special from 1955 that's more or less just playing with the premise of adapting the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" literally, without dialogue other than the lyrics. Suffice to say, it sinks or swims on a combination of the comedy and visual design, and... you know what? It doesn't sink or swim - it floats away in a hot air balloon. It is joyful, ridiculous, and beautiful. Just a joy, start to finish.

It's directed by and stars Wendy Toye as a progressively more exasperated woman dealing with a suitor literally named "Truelove" in the credits (played by David O'Brien), who gifts her everything outlined in the song, in the quantities specified. Toye and O'Brien act silently, with O'Brien seemingly channeling Charlie Chaplin. Both give great comedic performances, as does the extended cast of dancers, singing boys, lords, and Toye's butler.

There's no real plot, aside from the gradual takeover of the poor woman's house as the birds pile up, followed by cows, milkmaids, and the rest. By the end, she retreats to the roof, utterly exhausted by the whole thing and clearly no longer thinking much of Truelove. But he redeems himself by showing up in a hot-air balloon, collapsing the last five gold rings into an engagement ring, then flying her away. Her butler abandons the house, as well, though he doesn't get far: a sandbag dropped thoughtlessly from the balloon knocks him unconscious. 

The sets, costumes, and props are colorful, like a watercolor come to life. It's designed to resemble an idyllic turn-of-the-century English village, though it's clearly a soundstage. None of it looks realistic, but it's not supposed to: this is more like a live-action cartoon or moving painting than a traditional film.

The special is very much a trifle - there's no grand theme or moral or anything - but it's all so whimsical, you can't help but love it. Sweet and fun, with a seemingly endless supply of sight gags and absurdist moments, this is a reminder that entertainment doesn't need to be deep to be great. I highly recommend this, with the caveat it seems virtually impossible to find a decent copy. I wound up watching a passable version on YouTube, but comparing it against stills I found online makes it clear the color is a long way from perfect. Even so, I found it lovely and endearing. Here's hoping there'll be a better release before long. But even within these constraints, I still loved it.