No waffling

If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium

The 1969 rom-com travelogue If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium has long been synonymous with inconsequential daffiness, its very title a signifier of fizzy insignificance. But if this kind of movie was released today—a hip, fun comedy with likeable characters, a panoply of star cameos, gorgeous locations around the globe and an absence of disgusting sentimentality—it probably would be hailed as a mini-masterpiece.

Directed by Englishman Mel Stuart (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), If It’s Tuesday follows a motley crew of American tourists on a whirlwind tour through Europe, taking in nine countries in 18 days. The tour guide is the rakish Ian McShane, who seems almost ridiculously young and handsome after his turn as the heavy on Deadwood. He has a girl at every bus stop, but finds himself falling for one of the Americans (Suzanne Pleshette), who is on vacation to reconsider her upcoming marriage. It’s not exactly Gable and Colbert, but McShane and Pleshette are both charming and cute.

The rest of the tourists are the usual assortment of comedy stereotypes: one shy kleptomaniac, one gruff New Yawker, one crusty old dame, one rebellious teenage daughter. It’s as though Jacque Tati’s Playtime was remade for American sensibilities, with stock characters instead of a clamoring mob, and location shooting instead of Tati’s claustrophobic urban jungle.

What makes If It’s Tuesday work is the breathless pace (all extraneous narrative was left on the cutting room floor), the attractive and amusing cast (although I’m still not sure why Donovan is hanging around a European youth hostel, lisping a song about swans), and the aforementioned general lack of phony sentiment. The ultimate tone is madcap and bittersweet, instead of the sticky-sweet quality that spoils the soup in most modern romantic comedies.