"Only Two Can Play" is a sophisticated comedy and drama set in the fictional town of Aberdarcy, Wales. Peter Sellers is a librarian who's going through a mid-life crisis. In the mid-20th century, it was variously known as the seven-year itch. These and other such terms (marital wanderlust coming closest with its "lust" ending) described a phase some married men went through when they began to have thoughts about women other than their wives.
Sellers' John Lewis is married and has two children. The affection he shows his kids, and the relationship he has with his wife, Jean, portrays him as a decent chap who loves his wife and kids. There's just that temptation he gets frequently when he looks at very attractive women.
Virginia Maskell is very good as Jean Lewis, and judging from their discussions, John's problem is something she's aware of. This is a rather candid look, with comedy, at this sort of travail that befalls a number of men and marriages after a few years. It's something any number of couples must have faced as the 20th century moved past the middle and divorce rates climbed significantly.
The comedy here is mostly in some very funny dialog that involves Lewis, his wife, and some others. But there are also a couple of hilarious scenes in which Lewis is waylaid in his amorous pursuits of another particular woman. Mai Zetterling plays the part of Liz very well. She is the wife of a wealthy member of the landed gentry, Vernon Griffith-Williams. Some other actors have delightful parts that contribute to the humor. John Le Mesurier as Salter and Richard Attenborough as Gareth Probert have some very funny roles. Maudie Edwards is a hoot as Mrs. Edna Davies, the Lewis's landlady.
Don't look for Sellers in an Inspector Clouseau role here (from the Pink Panther series). This is one of his more astute comedy roles. He is at his best in such a role as a subtle, knowing and sharp John Lewis who just can't seem to keep from muffing things. But, he's on his toes otherwise and able to spar verbally with foe and friend alike.
Here are some favorite lines from the film. For more humorous dialog, see the Quotes section under this IMDb Web page of the movie. And, oh yes, the name of the play that Probert wrote and is directing at the Aberdarcy community playhouse, is "Bowen Thomas, Tailor of Llandilo."
John Lewis, showing a book to a library patron, "It's got quite a history, this one. It was only taken off the banned list in 1959. Since then, of course, it hasn't been asked for."
Mr. Hyman, returning a book to the library, "You got any more books like that?" John Lewis, "Well, not exactly like that, My Hyman, no. Not quite so many egg stains."
John Lewis, "You know what they say, don't you? A page a day keeps the analyst away."
John Lewis, "There's no doubt about it. I'd be much better off as a road sweeper."
Gareth Probert, "How are you, Lewis? Still peddling trash to the masses?" John Lewis, "Yes, that's right, yes. How about you -- still writing it?"
John Lewis, "Well, as dramatic critic of the Aberdarcy Chronicle at 10 bob a time, I suppose I should agree with you, sir. However, in my own opinion, I think he's a puffed up, under-sized, four-eyed little twit. Excuse me, won't you?" Vernon Gruffydds-Williams, "Fascinating."
John Lewis, to Gareth Probert, "I was plowing through your novel again the other day."
Mrs. Gruffydds-Williams (Liz), "You wouldn't like to go with some of us for a drink tonight, would you?" John Lewis, "Well, uh, that's very kind of you but, uh, unfortunately it's the children. You see, it's illegal to leave them unattended after dark."
John Lewis, "Um, how will I find you again?" Mrs. Gruffydds-Williams (Liz), slipping off her shoes, "I'll leave a trail."
John Lewis, "They should have used you in the tank corps." Mrs. Gruffydds-Williams (Liz), "They did."
Mrs. Edna Davies, "In for the night, are you Mr. Lewis?" John Lewis, "If I was going out for the night, I'd be pointing the other way, Mrs. Davies."
Gareth Probert, "Boy, tied to a man like this must be unspeakable hell." Jean Lewis, "No, I wouldn't say unspeakable."
John Lewis, "If I might be allowed to sum up a gem of exquisite Welsh prose, 'Push off while you are still in one piece.'"
Mrs. Edna Davies, "Oh, going out are you, Mr. Lewis?" John Lewis, "Oh, very observant of you, Mrs. Davies." Mrs. Davies, "Leaving the children alone, I suppose?" Lewis, "Yes. I put the oil stove close to the cot and I turned the wick on." Mrs. Davies, "You are not fit to have charge of children the way you carry on, Mr. Lewis." Lewis, "Well, I must get on with my boozin' now, Mrs. Davies. I have enjoyed our little chat."
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