Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Brothers in Law (1957)
Ian Carmichael
If there's a British comedy of the 1950s that you haven't seen, but really should see, then it is Brothers in Law. This 1957 Boulting Brothers film is a much underrated, and under-seen, film that follows the courtroom adventures of Roger Thursby (Ian Carmichael), a newly qualified barrister, as he struggles to build a career. Based on the novels of barrister Henry Cecil (you should try to find them, they are really quite entertaining), the film reveals the struggles of the na├»ve barrister as he tries to deal with judges who are ignorant of the law, witnesses who are afraid to tell the truth, plaintiffs with little grasp on the truth and the general speed with which the majority of court cases are conducted - leaving the less experienced barrister with little room to make even the slightest error.
Ian Carmichael
What is so surprising is that Brothers in Law is not as well known as some of Ian Carmichael's other films. Lucky Jim, Private's Progress, School for Scoundrels and I'm Alright Jack all come from the same period and feature Ian Carmichael as the hapless innocent, a nice (but not dim) guy who is thrown into a world where he is surrounded, and exploited, by those more worldly wise. Yet Brothers in Law stands alone with perhaps more charm than some of those other films.
The real stand-out performance is from Terry-Thomas playing a low level con man who chooses Roger to defend him. Terry-Thomas appears with Carmichael in all the films listed above, yet is only here that he strays out of character. Instead of playing the smooth, charming, but corrupt, womaniser - your archetypal cad - he plays a wide-boy, an unashamed criminal. There's no trace of the refined accent that Terry-Thomas had worked so hard on to conceal his real voice. Instead we perhaps get an indication of his original voice.

Terry-Thomas and Ian Carmichael
And, unlike those previous films, Terry-Thomas doesn't pit himself against Carmichael. Instead he helps him to win his first case, although he does have to lead the confused barrister through every step of the proceedings. It's a revelation to see Terry-Thomas in a crumpled suit and shiny tie rather than his more usual finery. His cigarette clenched between thumb and forefinger is a far-cry from the cigarette holders we more normally associate with him.
No less pivotal is the performance of Miles Malleson as Mr Grimes, the barrister who takes Thursby on as a pupil. He is a comic dream - forgetful, wig-wearing, talking virtual nonsense to judges - his finest moment is arriving in chambers one morning to remove endless layers of clothing. The sequence passes without comment but has an indelible comic charm.
Miles Malleson

Miles Malleson
As he begins his appearances in court, Thursby comes up against all manner of obstacles. There's the unmovable judge ...
John Le Mesurier
... the witness who refuses to tell her story to the court ...
Irene Handl
... and the woman seeking a divorce who reveals that her husband actually deserted her due to her infidelities ...
John Boxer and Olive Sloane
All leave Thursby convinced he will never make a living as a barrister:
Ian Carmichael
His big break comes courtesy of a horse-racing case in which a journalist has been accused of slander. Forced to stand in at the last minute, Roger charms the judge (Rolf Lefebvre) and sees his fortunes turn:
Rolf Lefebvre
Ian Carmichael and George Rose
During cross-examination, Roger twists and turns to confuse the defendant (George Rose) eventually forcing him to concede. The scene has a genuine comic charm, with Thursby's genuine skills finally shining through. The scenes appeal comes from the choice of the film's oldest, most cadaverous, judge who turns from a nightmarish vision of a hanging judge into a charming old fellow who accepts everything Roger says to him. As a piece of comedy this scene is a match for anything in those other films we earlier listed.
Of course, we mustn't forget the obligatory love interest Sally (Jill Adams) who lives in the flat upstairs:
Jill Adams & Ian Carmichael
For all her seeming innocence - the lacy bow blouse and poorly cut fringe - there's something delightfully saucy about her as she sets out to seduce both Roger and his flatmate (Richard Attenborough). Oh, and of course, whilst she's the daughter of a high powered solicitor, she's also a lingerie model:
Jill Adams

Richard Attenborough & Jill Adams
Here's who else appears:
Eric Barker as Mr Grimes's clerk:
Arthur Mullard (left) as a member of a jury:
Edith Sharpe and Henry Longhurst as Roger's parents:
Wydham Goldie (right) as a solicitor who tires to help Roger by giving him a supposedly simple case:
John Schlesinger (left) as the solicitor in Roger's first successful case:
Nicholas Parsons and Richard Attenborough as Roger's flatmates:
Raymond Huntley as a fellow barrister:
John van Eyssen:
Michael Ward as a photographer:
Kenneth Griffith (left) as an undertaker:

Leslie Phillips (right) as a shop assistant:

And I have to wonder, is this Bernard Hepton in an early role? It certainly looks like him but he isn't mentioned anywhere:

Of all the films so far reviewed on this blog, this is the one that I am convinced any of you would enjoy. To be honest, if you don't like this film you probably wouldn't be reading this blog.
So, is you've seen Private's Progress, Lucky Jim, School for Scoundrels and I'm Alright Jack, but haven't yet seen Brothers in Law, what are you waiting for?
Why are you reading this when you could be logging into 'Moviemail' and ordering a DVD?

Monday, 25 May 2015

Meet Mr Lucifer (1953)
Stanley Holloway as  the Devil and ...

... as an actor playing the Devil!
Meet Mr Lucifer must be one the strangest films ever to come out of Ealing Studios and, not only that, it is also one of the most underrated. It has somehow earned a dreadful reputation and yet it is both funny and fun. No one is going to label it as one of the great Ealing Comedies, but it is far superior to some of the fare produced by the studio in the 1950s. Currently available on Volume 9 of Network DVD's The Ealing Studios Rarities Collection, it is worth watching just so that you can make up your own mind about its worth.
It tells the story of a failing pantomime star, played by Stanley Holloway, whose performances are playing to empty theatres:
The source of this downturn in audience numbers? Television.
After an accident knocks him unconscious, he dreams of meeting the Devil who sends him out to ruin people's lives as a reward for their addiction to watching television. The message certainly isn't subtle, but even more than sixty years on the film's observations on the impact of TV haven't dated.
Stanley Holloway's character (who doesn't actually seem particularly interested in doing anything to save theatre) ...
... is disparaging about television, describing it as an example of mass hallucination - although it might have been more accurate for him to describe it as mass hypnotism. Among those hypnotised by the arrival of television include a young married couple (played by Peggy Cummins and Jack Watling) whose relationship is spoiled by the amount of time spent staring at the screen:
Peggy Cummins & Jack Watling

Jack Watling

Peggy Cummins
Then there's the staid chemist, played by Gordon Jackson ...
Gordon Jackson
... whose life is turned upside down ...
... when he falls in love with TV's 'Lonely Hearts' singer, played by Kay Kendall:

Her act is an example of the blatant manipulation of vulnerable and lonely male members of the audience who truly believe she is singing directly to them, rather than just being part of an act. Unlike theatre or cinema, where the audience member knows the message is going out to everybody, the television message targets the solitary viewer. It's a precursor for all those online adverts that convince lonely western men that they could find love with gorgeous Russian 'models'. The film's moral stance is also a direct attack on commercialism and the blatant use of a layer of false emotion to present goods to an audience.
And what does the early TV show? There are no surprises for the modern audience. When Joseph Tomelty takes possession of a television, the first thing he sees is football ...
... closely followed by dancing ...
... cookery shows ...
... and science programmes with the power to enthral the audience without any of them understanding a word of it:

So what's changed? Nothing. We still sit around these boxes that bring the world into our living rooms and yet all too often offer us little but a view on the mundane.
The film's cast is immense, including:
Barbara Murray

Dandy Nicholls & Ernest Thesiger

Edie Martin

Gladys Henson (centre)
Raymond Huntley (centre) and Roddy Hughes (right)

Irene Handl

Jean Cadell

John Boxer

Joan Sims

Olive Sloane

Ian Carmichael as 'Man Friday' in the pantomime 'Robinson Crusoe'.
1950s TV personality Gilbert Harding appears as himself, with Joseph Tomelty watching his performance. Harding and Tomelty had previous played opposite each other in Ealing's The Gentle Gunman.
Trivia: when Holloway appears as the Devil (rather than the stage devil), his voice is dubbed by actor Geoffrey Keen.

This poster is currently available from the highly recommended website Rare Film Posters:
One final point: It's worth noting that Stanley Holloway appears in an outfit that appears almost identical to that he wore a few years later in The Titfield Thunderbolt: tweed jacket and soft tweed hat, bow tie and smoking through a cigarette holder:
Stanley Holloway
The Titfield Thunderbolt
The Titfield Thunderbolt