WolfmanOz at the Movies #91


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.

Simply wonderful.

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.

Enjoy.

and the tease for next week’s post . . . Jack.



36 responses to “WolfmanOz at the Movies #91”

  1. Bungonia Bee Avatar
    Bungonia Bee

    The Ealing Comedies ran along similar lines – some outlandish plots, populated by some wonderful actors including Alec Guiness and Peter Sellers. You could spot a very young Ronnie Corbett as an extra in The Titfield Thunderbolt, as well as Stanley Holloway and Sid James in listed roles.
    The original Ladykillers film is a gem for all time.

  2. Tommbell Avatar
    Tommbell

    Sim also played the judge listening wistfully to Albert Haddock’s imaginative legal arguments.

  3. Chris Avatar
    Chris

    How do people get to see these? Searching the DVD racks at Vinnies is of limited use if you don’t want Jane Fonda workout videos and the 4th season of Suits.

  4. lotocoti Avatar
    lotocoti

    How do people get to see these?

    There are streaming sites with extensive libraries,
    some which let you search by country, genre and actor.
    However you do have to keep ahead of ACMA’s ban hammer.

  5. WolfmanOz Avatar
    WolfmanOz

    Chris
    Jan 18, 2024 9:32 AM

    Keep an eye out on channels 7, 9 and 10 digital channels eg GEM – they often appear during afternoon programming.

  6. Bungonia Bee Avatar
    Bungonia Bee

    I just happen to have a 16 DVD box set of the Ealing comedies.

  7. Vicki Avatar
    Vicki

    This, from the latest newsletter of Jim Rickards “Strategic Intelligence Australia”)

    Zuckerberg’s new bunker gets him ready for nuclear war. Are you ready?

    Everyone agrees it’s a good idea to keep a flashlight, extra batteries, a transistor radio, water, and a first-aid kit handy in case of storms or power outages. If you want to dial-up your disaster preparation, you can add several hundred days’ worth of freeze-dried food, a generator, and maybe a ham radio. So far, so good.

    How about a $270 million, 57,000 square foot bunker on an island in the North Pacific with 12 buildings, 30 bedrooms, 30 bathrooms, independent energy, water, and food supplies and more? Now we’re talking!

    Is anyone actually building such a bunker? According to this article, the builder is none other than Mark Zuckerberg, the nerdy multi-billionaire who founded Facebook (now Meta). What’s the point of these super-bunkers? Since Zuckerberg has access to the best engineering and construction talent in the world, one assumes that the bunker is built to survive a nuclear attack and the resulting radioactive fallout. You might have to stay underground for several months before the ‘all clear’ signal is sounded, but that sounds entirely feasible for Mark & Friends.

    I actually have some experience in disaster and evacuation planning working for the Pentagon and the Director of National Intelligence. I find that most plans will break down within minutes of sounding the alarm. Evacuation of a major city? You can’t get out of Washington DC or New York on a good day; how are you supposed to move anywhere when every bridge, tunnel, and highway is jammed with pedestrians, trucks, stalled cars, and more and people are running for their lives? (By the way, the trick for dealing with those situations is a bicycle. It moves about 10 mph, does not need fuel, can work on road or offroad, can weave through stalled cars, and you can carry it on your back if needed in difficult terrain).

    The real flaw in a plan like Zuckerberg’s is getting there. What if you’re in Europe when a nuclear war begins? How do you get to Hawaii with airports closed? The billionaires shrug and reply they have private planes. OK, how do you fuel the plane when the power grid is out? (Fuel pumps need electricity to operate). Will the pilot actually leave his family behind to fly the big shot to safety? Get two planes and bring the family! You see the point.

    Successful evacuation and shelter look good on the drawing board, but practical limitations soon intrude. By the way, if you want that kind of shelter and you don’t have $270 million lying around, there’s a much better alternative: location. Identify likely nuclear targets. Study distance and prevailing winds. Pick a place that has a sense of community but is far from urban concentrations. Build a modest house with solar panels on the roof and an artesian well that does not depend on government infrastructure. Plant a small garden. Sit back and relax. You’re all set.

  8. Chris Avatar
    Chris

    Keep an eye out on channels 7, 9 and 10 digital channels eg GEM – they often appear during afternoon programming.

    Cool, I should be able to do that full time soon (he whined bitterly).

  9. WolfmanOz Avatar
    WolfmanOz

    Vicki
    Jan 18, 2024 10:38 AM

    Vicki – I think you posted this on the wrong thread !

  10. Drax Avatar
    Drax

    I would rate Lionel Jeffries as one of the great comic actors of that era. He starred alongside Peter Sellers in the early films such as Wrong Arm of the Law and had a minor role in Doctor at Large. He was also sought for supporting roles in big budget films such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Not all his roles were comic. He appeared in The Colditz Story amongst others. Jeffries directed children’s films and was also a screenwriter. His filmography is too long to list here but his films are worth watching if you can find them.

  11. Lee Avatar
    Lee

    As I’ve already covered the comedies from Ealing in an earlier post this will cover non Ealing films.

    Wolfman, what # was that, please?

  12. Bruce in WA Avatar
    Bruce in WA

    Ah, Genevieve. I remember seeing the film with Mum and Dad when I was just a kid and have enjoyed it several times since.

    Genevieve was a Darracq (French) car made about 1904/05. Twin cylinder two-plus litre engine, three speed manual; top speed a tad below 50 km/h. John Gregson, who played Genevieve’s owner in the film, reportedly not only had no driver’s licence, he had no clue how to drive. After some lessons he could drive Genevieve, but not a (then) modern car.

    Genevieve made her way to Australia via NZ and even lived in Albany, WA, for a number of years, before returning to the UK. She now lives in a Dutch museum, I believe.

  13. WolfmanOz Avatar
    WolfmanOz

    Lee
    Jan 18, 2024 11:54 AM

    https://newcatallaxy.blog/2023/01/05/wolfmanoz-at-the-movies-52/

    Just over a year ago !

  14. WolfmanOz Avatar
    WolfmanOz

    Bruce in WA
    Jan 18, 2024 12:04 PM

    Nice story re John Gregson – hadn’t heard that before.

  15. Lee Avatar
    Lee

    Thanks for that, Wolfman!

  16. Fair Shake Avatar
    Fair Shake

    A bit before my time I’m afraid Mr Wolfman.

    I come in around Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I recall ribbing my father on how many times he made us watch CCBB. My father exploded in mock rage ‘What? I never wanted to see that damn movie, but you kids would demand we go and see it everytime it was on in town!’. LOL. The things he did for us kids. ‘Grow the roses, grow the roses…’

  17. Entropy Avatar
    Entropy

    As I recall the 2007 reboot of St Trinians also had Rupert Everett performing the dual roles of Ms Fritton and Carnaby Fritton. With Colin Firth as the uptight education minister.
    In the sequel , the Legend of Fritton’s Gold, Everett played a third character in the movie as well as Ms Fritton and Carnaby, Captain Fritton.
    These are more anarchic and naughtier than the 1950s movies.

  18. Entropy Avatar
    Entropy

    The Classix app on an Apple TV has quite a few copyright free movies

  19. Roger Avatar
    Roger

    Low brow compared to some on the list, but when I was a child the films of Norman Wisdom were often repeated on TV and much enjoyed.

    He was big in Albania, on account of his films being the only foreign produced ones allowed to be screened. Not many people know that!

  20. WolfmanOz Avatar
    WolfmanOz

    Roger
    Jan 18, 2024 6:28 PM

    Good pickup Roger – I totally forgot about him. I haven’t seen a movie of his for decades now.

    I was quite fond of Norman Wisdom when I was a kid.

  21. calli Avatar
    calli

    Thanks Wolfman. These movies were the stuff of rainy Saturday afternoons as I grew up. Also the racy Carry On comedies.

    Thanks for the memories.

  22. Lee Avatar
    Lee

    Low brow compared to some on the list, but when I was a child the films of Norman Wisdom were often repeated on TV and much enjoyed.

    I remember one of his films featured possibly the most cringe-inducing scene I have seen in a movie.
    Wisdom’s character put on an extremely embarrassing public display of self-pity, in which blamed everyone else around him for his situation.
    Put me off him and his movies for good.

  23. Roger Avatar
    Roger

    Good pickup Roger – I totally forgot about him. I haven’t seen a movie of his for decades now.

    When his British film career fizzled out on account of changing tastes, he embarked on a successful new career on Broadway in NYC, Wolfman.

    Not just a slapstick comedian…not that there’s anything wrong with that! 😀

  24. Roger Avatar
    Roger

    Wisdom’s character put on an extremely embarrassing public display of self-pity, in which blamed everyone else around him for his situation.
    Put me off him and his movies for good.

    Different times, Lee. Everything was over the top…that’s what his working class audience enjoyed.

  25. Lee Avatar
    Lee

    Different times, Lee. Everything was over the top…that’s what his working class audience enjoyed.

    I dunno, Roger.
    It just went against everything I had read and heard about Englishmen and their “stiff upper lip.”
    That, and I detest displays of self-pity.

  26. Johnny Rotten Avatar
    Johnny Rotten

    Thanks a lot WolfmanOz. A lot of those post war British films can be seen free on Youtube as well. Superb comedy films as well as thrillers.

  27. Duc de Normandie Avatar

    Kat Kendall and Dinah Sheridan were beautiful and elegant. Women today mostly lack grace.

  28. johanna Avatar
    johanna

    I love the Scottish themed ones like Brigadoon, Geordie, Whisky Galore, I Know Where I’m Going!, to name a few. The humour tends to be drier and less slapstick, in keeping with perceptions of the Scottish character.

    Wolfman is correct about many of these films appearing on GEM – they seem to have bought a batch of them which are regularly screened in the afternoon. If you know what you are looking for, most are also on Youtube, although it make take a bit of digging to find them. Hint – check the sidebars and also click on the name of the person who posted something in the genre to find more.

  29. Jock Avatar
    Jock

    Showing my ethnicity I prefer Geordie, whisky galore, and the Maggie.

  30. Chris Avatar
    Chris

    I dunno, Roger.
    It just went against everything I had read and heard about Englishmen and their “stiff upper lip.”
    That, and I detest displays of self-pity.

    We Aussies do not ‘get’ class expression in Pomgolia.

    The stiff upper lip is connected to the officer class, or being a ‘gentleman’. Read Ford Maddox Ford, ‘The Good Soldier’. Or Jane Austen, or Georgette Heyer, or a squillion other writers. Much of our reading is about 10% or fewer of the English people.

    On the other hand, the working class are a culturally separate demographic. I think Alan Sillitoe, ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ was the first modern novel I read that made clear how different ordinary people’s lives were from the writings of the literary class. These people are who ‘lowbrow comedy’ and ‘music hall’ before it were aimed at.

    Then there are the distinctions that matter… for instance the unquenchable hatred of the ‘lower middle class’ for ‘the toffs’. They could easily have set up Madame Guillotine. They are the red brick uni types who pass laws to spit in the face of fellow ‘englishmen’, the wealth taxes and anything else that irritates the imagined upper class. They are the coppers who smashed the faces of Countryside Alliance protesters trying to keep fox hunting from being banned. And they are many of the New Class, the Anywheres who rule the culture now.

  31. johanna Avatar
    johanna

    Indeed, Chris, the one thing most of these films have in common is taking the mickey out of the upper classes. It’s usually done in a good natured way, though. Hate, resentment and envy are completely incompatible with the genre.

  32. local oaf Avatar
    local oaf

    Drax
    Jan 18, 2024 11:50 AM

    I would rate Lionel Jeffries as one of the great comic actors of that era.

    Definitely agree!

    Lionel J was hilarious in any comedy, Wrong Arm of the Law a particular favourite.
    You must be Joking as a kilted Scots Sergeant Major in a crazy initiative test treasure hunt set in motion by Terry-Thomas is worth seeing.
    He was brilliant in First Men in the Moon as the exuberant idealistic inventor Cavor who first takes mankind to the moon in 1899.

    Showed a more gritty dramatic side in comedy drama Jazz Boat, as a tough cop. Very hard to find.

    On the subject of Norman Wisdom, I liked him as a kid but his style of comedy didn’t seem to survive the 50s when the more optimistic 60s arrived. Tony Hancock in the same boat to some extent I think.

  33. SandyK Avatar
    SandyK

    Thanks Wolfman, I can finally tell the wife someone listens to me!

    I watched the US/UK movie Local Hero the other night, another comedy with dark undertones saved by an eccentric billionaire in the days when eccentric billionaires saved things. A bonus of watching the movie is the music of Dire Straits (Local Her and Going Home). I love the dry, dour Scottish humour, wonderful. You can view it at https://archive.org/details/localhero_201907

  34. Lee Avatar
    Lee

    I always thought that Lionel Jeffries looked like an old man, even in his 30s and 40s; maybe it was because he went bald early.

  35. Chris Avatar
    Chris

    Indeed, Chris, the one thing most of these films have in common is taking the mickey out of the upper classes. It’s usually done in a good natured way, though. Hate, resentment and envy are completely incompatible with the genre.

    Very well said, johanna.

  36. WolfmanOz Avatar
    WolfmanOz

    A hugely talented individual was Lionel Jeffries – actor (comedy and drama), film director and screenwriter.

    His film version of the beloved classic The Railway Children is an outstanding film.

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