Post War British comedies.
To kick off 2024 I thought I’d discuss something a bit more cheerful given the doom and gloom that pretty well surrounds us all in the world today (the topic was suggested by SandyK in an earlier post from late last year).
With the end of World War II, Great Britain was both physically and mentally exhausted after 6 years of total war. It’s as if the local film industry realised there was a need for humour and light relief, although I’m sure it was a mere coincidence; but there was an out-pouring of top British comedies for the next 15 years that are still fondly enjoyed and remembered today. As I’ve already covered the comedies from Ealing in an earlier post this will cover non Ealing films.
Arguably, IMO, the finest comedy British actor in this period was the incomparable Alastair Sim. He was also an accomplished dramatic actor as well where he probably gave the defining film portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge in Scrooge (1951) but it was in comedy that he was most endearing.
In the murder mystery/comedy he played the police detective in Green For Danger (1946), the headmaster in the superb comedy The Happiest Days Of Your Life (1950) co-starring the delightful Margaret Rutherford and he was a writer of lurid crime fiction in the hilarious Laughter In Paradise (1951).
In the farcical The Belles Of St. Trinians (1954) he played the dual roles of Millicent and Clarence Fritton, the headmistress of St. Trinians and her shady brother. Having originally accepted the part of Clarence, Sim agreed to play in drag as Miss Fritton when Margaret Rutherford proved unavailable, and the director and co-producer, Frank Launder could find no suitable actress as an alternative.
Frank Launder was a British writer, film director and producer, who made more than 40 films, many of them in collaboration with Sidney Gilliat of which they focused on comedies in the 1950s including the St. Trinians films, Folly To Be Wise (with Alastair Sim), The Constant Husband and The Green Man.
In addition to the wildly successful St. Trinians films the other successful British comedy series of films in the 1950s was the Doctor films starting with Doctor In The House (1954) which spawned six sequels. They were developed from the series of comic novels by British physician Richard Gordon covering the antics of a group of young doctors. The early films featured Dirk Bogarde in the lead as Doctor Sparrow and Donald Sinden as Benskin and, most memorably, James Robertson Justice as the pompous and bombastic head surgeon Sir Lancelot Spratt.
Another comedy film making team during this period was the Boulting Brothers (John and Roy who were identical twins) who became known for their series of satirical comedies which included Private’s Progess (1956), Lucky Jim (1957), Brothers In Law (1957) and the marvellous I’m All Right Jack (1959) which took a look at powerful trade unions and corrupt board room practices and starred Peter Sellers as the trade union foreman Fred Kite.
But if I had to pick the best comedy film from this period I would probably select Genevieve (1953) directed by Henry Cornelius and starring John Gregson, Dinah Sheridan, Kenneth More and Kay Kendall as two couples involved in a veteran automobile rally which leads to a race back from Brighton to London.
Featuring a lovely score by harmonicist Larry Adler, the film is a joyful delight from start to finish and the comedic tone of the film was established by the following disclaimer at the end of the opening credits:
For their patient co-operation the makers of this film express their thanks to the officers and members of the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain. Any resemblance between the deportment of our characters and any club members is emphatically denied – by the Club.
I’m sure others here would like to comment and add to the list of films from this period, which are often shown on free-to-air channels on weekends as their popularity still endures to this day.
and the tease for next week’s post . . . Jack.