The Young Mr. Pitt (1942)

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Europe is not to be saved by any single man. England, 1783. King George III appoints 24 year old William Pitt (Robert Donat) as prime minister. When members of Parliament refuse to take Pitt seriously, he calls for a general election and wins. He sets to work on a programme of reform, focusing on rebuilding the navy while across the sea in France, Napoleon Bonaparte (Herbert Lom) begins his conquest of Europe. After rejecting an alliance with France, he puts his own mind at ease by selecting Admiral Horatio Nelson (Stephen Haggard) to lead the fleet… Does the Minister propose to defeat Bonaparte by earnest consideration? It’s not the most typical of Carol Reed’s films – you won’t see the visual flourishes for which he would become distinguished even if Freddie Young is responsible for some fine cinematography here. It’s a fairly conventional biography, adapted by Launder and Gilliat from the book by the Viscount Castlerosse, who also contributes to the dialogue (with the parliamentary exchanges based on real speeches in Westminster) and it’s pleasingly busy with sharp lines and buzzing with character, Donat’s face registering as is his wont every injury and sorrow. He ages convincingly, his personal worries – romantic, financial – mirroring Napoleon’s onward march:  Conquerors are invariably upstarts. It’s significant that this was made during World War 2, with a call to arms against such individuals resonant throughout the rise of this iteration of Hitler (rather unfair to Napoleon, I think). This is a lively piece of work, ripe with history, boasting a great ensemble including Robert Morley as Charles Fox, John Mills as William Wilberforce and Phyllis Calvert as Eleanor Eden, with an amusing Albert Lieven playing Talleyrand.  Do not seek fame through war

The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950)

The Happiest Days of Your Life

Tap it gently. We’re not here to announce a film. In September 1939, confusion reigns when St Swithin’s Girls’ School is relocated to the countryside and accidentally billeted at Nutbourne College, a long-established boarding school for boys. The two heads, Wetherby Pond (Alastair Sim) and Muriel Whitchurch (Margaret Rutherford), try to cope with the ensuing chaos, as the children and staff attempt to live in the newly cramped conditions (it being impossible to share dormitories or other facilities), and seek to prevent the children taking advantage of their new opportunities. But with the domestic staff up in arms and departing, St Swithins’ home economics students are not really cutting the mustard and their parents are visiting… My mind is made up on one thing Miss Whitchurch: if I sink, you sink with me!  With titles by Ronald Searle and a cast that includes Joyce Grenfell, Guy Middleton and Richard Wattis (and an uncredited George Cole) you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d wandered into a St Trinian’s film by mistake. In fact that series’ authors, Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, are responsible for this outing, which takes a superb cast and a tilt at bureaucracy, a dig at the post-war problems besetting 1950s Britain.  Some terrific setpieces include literally moving the goalposts when the parents’ tour coincides with the governors’ of the prestigious school where Pond is hoping to get his next appointment. We’re waiting for an explanation Mr Pond!/Can’t you see I’m trying to think of one? Adapted by John Dighton from his own play with Frank Launder. A lot of droll fun with Sim and Rutherford in their element. Call me Sausage!

Blue Murder at St Trinians (1957)

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A very deftly plotted entry in the Launder and Gilliat series adapted from Ronald Searle’s riotous school stories, this sees Amelia Fritton (Alastair Sim) in prison and with the school under military and police control, the girls contrive to win a bus trip to Europe and the father (Lionel Jeffries) of one of them returns in Ms Fritton’s place when he needs to hide out following a heist at Hatton Garden. With Terry-Thomas romancing Joyce Grenfell, George Cole doing his inimitable best as ‘Flash’ Harry running a marriage agency to get the sixth formers hitched, it’s all systems go for the anarchic crew. Bedlam, in  other words. Great fun.

Folly to be Wise (1952)

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Army chaplain Captain Paris (Alastair Sim) is tasked with providing entertainment for the troops but his musical acts aren’t talking to each other. He sets up a Brains Trust of local artists and do-gooders and merry hell ensues. Not the most impressive production for any responsible (Launder and Gilliat are in charge) but gentle hangover entertainment and Sim is always a joy. From James Bridie’s play.

The Green Man (1956)

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It’s pouring rain and freezing cold so it’s time for an afternoon of Olde Englishe films. What a joy it is to see the Launder and Gilliat logo at the top of a title sequence! And then the credits roll up and the names just delight: Alastair Sim, George Cole, Terry-Thomas. Terry-Thomas!!!! Bliss. This is the one where Sim winds up preferring his work as a hitman to the day job. When he gets the call to off a politician all manner of people get in his way. When L&G first wrote this as a play in 1937 the hitman was a minor character but in its various gestations it became the leading role and thank goodness Sim was around to play it. Directed by Robert Day – with uncredited assistance from Basil Dearden because of disagreements with Sim, who wanted to direct it himself.  This is a non-stop, droll, comic delight of pratfalls, missed opportunities and genteel Englishness. Like I said, bliss.

The Belles of St Trinians (1954)

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Thoroughly delightful adaptation of Ronald Searle’s anarchic schoolgirls by Launder and Gilliat with some help from Val Valentine. Glorious acting in drag by Alastair Sim as the headmistress  AND her gambler brother with a moneymaking scheme dreamed up by several parties upon the arrival of an Arab Princess whose Sultan father has a horse in the Gold Cup. Great fun, with an amazing cast amongst whom Joyce Grenfell and George Cole are standouts.