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Added by Andy Goulding on 24 Oct 2010 02:48
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British Comedies of the 40s, 50s and 60s

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Michael Pertwee and Mario Zampi team up again for their greatest collaboration and one of the most purely enjoyable and hilarious British comedies of the 50s. Although it seems overly broad to begin with and features a miscast George Cole in a leading role, 'Too Many Crooks' just gets better, faster and funnier as it goes along. Terry-Thomas gives one of his greatest performances as wealthy businessman William Gordon, a man who rejoices when his wife is kidnapped but would repeatedly run back into a burning building to save his fortune (the latter being one of the funniest scenes in a British comedy I've ever seen). As in most Pertwee scripts, the farce escalates as the film goes on, culminating in a fantastic scene in which Thomas stands trial multiple times in quick succession. Also worthy of note in this great little film is a top peformance by Sid James in the relatively straight role of a frustrated gang member.
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People who added this item 67 Average listal rating (39 ratings) 7.3 IMDB Rating 7.3
The Boulting Brothers' sharpest, funniest and most popular satire, 'I'm All Right Jack' is a masterful take on British industry, exposing bosses, workers and trade unionists as all equally corrupt and incompetent. This one was clearly going to be a classic given that it features 4 of my big 6: Ian Carmichael, Terry-Thomas, Peter Sellers AND Margaret Rutherford, as well as many of the best supporting actors from these films, including Dennis Price, Richard Attenborough, Irene Handl, John le Mesurier and Miles Malleson.

Although it is officially a sequel to 'Private's Progress', with Carmichael, Thomas, Price, Attenborough and Malleson all reprising their roles from that film, 'I'm All Right Jack' can easily be taken as a stand-alone film, with only passing reference made to the events of 'Private's Progress'. Here, the hapless Stanley Windrush attempts to find a job in industry and once again finds himself manipulated from all angles. The script and performances are all top drawer but 'I'm All Right Jack' is rightfully remembered chiefly for one performance above all, that is Peter Sellers' unforgettable Fred Kite, the Communist union leader. Sellers makes Kite one of the most unforgettable comic figures in British film history with an incredible, subtly drawn character study. He deservedly won a BAFTA award for his work and 'I'm All Right Jack' entered British comedy legend.
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One of the greatest comedies of all time, Stanley Kubrick's 'Dr. Strangelove' is the landmark achievement of Peter Seller's phenomenal career. A spot-on satire on the utter futility of war and the then very-real threat of the nuclear scare, 'Dr. Strangelove' was years ahead of its time in making a comedy out of such an issue while films like Sidney Lumet's 'Fail Safe' were taking it deadly seriously.

A strong cast includes George C. Scott as over-the-top General Buck Turgidson and the usually terribly wooden Sterling Hayden in one of his few effective performances as the insane General Jack D. Ripper who orders American planes to attack Russia, an act that could trigger total nuclear destruction. Slim Pickens plays a gung-ho Major who pilots the bomber on its way to carry out Ripper's orders. 'Dr. Strangelove' follows the frantic attmepts to recall the bombers before they destroy the planet as we know it.

With able support in place, Peter Sellers steps up to play no less than three different roles: the heroic but panicked Captain Mandrake, American President Merkin Muffley and the titular Dr. Strangelove, nuclear war expert and former Nazi. In these three varied roles Sellers is absolutely phenomenal. As Mandrake he gives us the disintergration of a stiff-upper-lipped Brit in crisis. As Strangelove he gives us a broad, comedic gem of a caricature, best remembered for his uncontrollable Nazi-salute twitch. But Sellers is at his best as President Muffley, a troubled, slightly-bumbling leader. His semi-improvised telephone conversation with the Russian Premier is one of the greatest comedy scenes in film history, and it is also in the role of Muffley that Sellers gets to deliver the immortal line "You can't fight in here, this is the War Room". Comedy perfection from start to finish.
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Ealing's 'Passport to Pimlico' benefits greatly from the escalating absurdities of T.E.B. Clarke's wonderful script. Clarke wrote some of the most memorable Ealing comedies (including his Oscar winning masterpiece 'The Lavender Hill Mob') and director Herny Cornelius went on to direct delightful British comedy 'Genevieve', sadly not part of this list due to the absence of any members of the big 6. Happily, an all too brief turn by Margaret Rutherford means I can include 'Passport to Pimlico'.

When the residents of Pimlico discover an ancient document showing that their region is legally part of Burgundy, they declare independence from the rest of England and find themselves gradually reaching a state of all-out war with the Government. It's a lovely concept, played out in an enormously fun way by a charming cast lead by Stanley Holloway.
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One of the undisputed masterpieces of British comedy, 'Kind Hearts and Coronets' is a masterful dark satire and is often considered the greatest of the Ealing comedies. The story of a man in Edwardian England who sets about murdering all the members of an aristocratic family in order to inherit the title denied him by their cruel treatment of his dead mother, 'Kind Hearts and Coronets' is perhaps best remembered for the multiple roles played by Alec Guiness. Guiness plays all eight doomed members of the D'Ascoyne family. Although some of these peformances amount to little more than a few seconds of screentime, Guiness makes clear his comic gifts by carefully delineating the differences between each family member.

In all fairness though, this is that rarest of occasions when Guiness does not walk away with the show. In the lead role of Louis Mazzini, Dennis Price is superb and swings brilliantly between the dramatic and the comic. A regular face in British comedy films, Price never got another role nearly as delicious and he relishes his opportunity to play this one.
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A hugely popular film which resulted in several deeply inferior sequels, Gilliat-Launder's first St. Trinian's film based on the cartoons of Ronald Searle, is a frantically entertaining caper starring Alastair Sim in one of his most unusual performances as both shady crook Clarence Fritton and his sister Millicent, headmistress of St. Trinian's school. The sight of Sim in drag is at once bizarre and amusingly unconvincing, although his comedy flame still burns bright through his dress and string of pearls. Also excellent are George Cole as roguish spiv Flash Harry and especially Joyce Grenfell as the uncover policewoman posing as the school's new games mistress. Shennanigans involving a racehorse and the spunky young schoolgirls ensure that things build up to a thrillingly chaotic climax. Silly fun that stands up to many subsequent viewings.
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An absolutely delightful little comedy about a couple who inherit a tumbledown cinema and its elderly employees. In direct competition with the modern Grand cinema, the couple attempt to make a go of business in the face of limited resources and the sabotage attempts of the larger cinema's greedy owner. Scripted by William Rose ('The Ladykillers') and directed by Basil Dearden ('The Green Man'), 'The Smallest Show on Earth' has impeccable credentials and, even better, two of the plum roles are played by Peter Sellers and Margaret Rutherford. As two of the ineffectual elderly employees of the small cinema, Rutherford and Sellers instil a heart-rending pathos in their comic creations. Excellent support comes from Bernard Miles as the third employee, the sinister Old Tom, and a young Leslie Phillips as the couple's lawyer.
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People who added this item 32 Average listal rating (18 ratings) 7.4 IMDB Rating 6.9
Writer Michael Pertwee and Director Mario Zampi, who previously made 'Laughter in Paradise' together, reunite for 'The Naked Truth', another episodic comedy which doesn't quite gel completely but nevertheless offers plenty of laughs along the way. A blackmailer (oily Dennis Price) threatens to expose the dirty secrets of four victims, who then decide that murder is a preferable solution to paying up. Among the blackmail victims are Peter Sellers as a TV personality and master of disguise and Terry-Thomas as a hapless Lord who keeps wandering into the path of other people's murder plots.

Michael Pertwee's script repeats the mistakes of 'Laughter in Paradise' by ultimately throwing more balls in the air than he can plausibly juggle but, also like 'Laughter in Paradise', 'The Naked Truth' overcomes its lapses into the overly-silly and emerges as an entertaining, often hilarious black comedy. Like Alastair Sim's plot strand in 'Laughter in Paradise', Sellers' series of disguises is by far the funniest thread here but the supporting plots are stronger than in the previous film and Terry-Thomas is also particularly effective as the unwitting Lord Henry Mayley.
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People who added this item 5 Average listal rating (4 ratings) 6.5 IMDB Rating 0
'Barnacle Bill' (released in America as 'All at Sea') is generally considered to be the last of the Ealing Comedies (although some maintain that this honour should actually go to 'Davy', released the same year). Although it's a good deal less subtle than many of its predecessors, 'Barnacle Bill' is a hugely enjoyable little film that perfectly evokes the melancholy-tinged sweetness of a small seaside town.

Alec Guinness gives yet another great performance as William Horatio Ambrose, a man with a proud family tradition of seafaring men which he is unable to uphold due to his own violent seasickness. As a result, he purchases a run-down amusement pier and becomes its 'captain', setting about repairing the pier and making it popular again. When his efforts are opposed by a crooked town council, William finds ways around every obstacle they throw in his path.

With its agreeable David and Goliath set-up and frequently witty script, 'Barnacle Bill' is a a lot of fun to watch. But there are also signs that the comedy scene was changing from the one that spawned so many Ealing classics. The smut that would swamp many British comedies of the period is beginning to take hold (played up on the American poster, even though it's kept to a few irritating visual gags in the film) and the script by T.E.B. Clarke (responsbile for many Ealing classics) noticably begins to turn into a retread of his earlier 'Passport to Pimlico'. Despite it's failures though, 'Barnacle Bill' is still a charming way for the Ealing Comedy to bow out.
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'Last Holiday' is one of the oddest and most fascinating films on this list. Written by J.B. Priestley of 'An Inspector Calls' fame, 'Last Holiday' is a melancholy comedy-drama about an unassuming man who is diagnosed with a rare disease and given only weeks to live. Resolving to enjoy himself in what little time he has left, he takes his savings and checks into an upmarket hotel where his enigmatic presence causes a stir amongst the residents.

In the leading role of George Bird, which demands great subtlty and underplaying, Alec Guinness is perfectly cast and his supporting cast provide a suitably vivid contrast. The mood of the film is intentionally difficult to pin down. It has elements of comedy, high drama, romance and even seems to be flirting with the notion of farce at one point. But the unforgettable ending casts the whole thing in a different light and reveals it as very much a Priestley work.
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People who added this item 17 Average listal rating (12 ratings) 7.1 IMDB Rating 0
Based on Arnold Bennett's novel, Ronald Neame's 'The Card' is an extremely enjoyable, episodic comedy following the fortunes of Denry Machin, a poor but ambitious young man who sets about fulfilling his potential in a series of charming vignettes. Alec Guinness visibly enjoys playing the charming, wily opportunist and Glynis Johns is also a hoot as a grotesquely money-obsessed dance teacher who sets her sights on Guinness on numerous occasions. Although 'The Card' is generally more amusing than laugh out loud funny this is not to it's detriment. I believe I had a smile on my face for the majority of the film's runtime.
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People who added this item 1952 Average listal rating (978 ratings) 7.3 IMDB Rating 7.6
One of the most overlooked films in Stanley Kubrick's amazing canon, 'Lolita' is a film that baffled and continues to baffle many viewers. Although it is scripted by the author of the original novel Vladimir Nabokov, fans of that novel often complain of the decision to stage the controversial story of 40-something professor Humbert Humbert's sexual obsession with a teenage girl as a kind of comedy farce. But if you can divorce yourself from the source material (which was softened a little by raising Lolita's age from twelve to fourteen, as well as all actual sexual activity having to be merely implied), 'Lolita' is another Kubrick masterpiece.

Beautifully told over two and a half hours, 'Lolita' has great performances from James Mason as Humbert and a cringingly pathetic Shelley Winters as lonely widow Charlotte Haze. Most characters get their little bits of comedy business, ranging from the blackest of humour to the broadest of slapstick. The undoubted highlights of the film, however, are when Peter Sellers turns up as Clare Quilty, a predatory playwright who dogs Humbert by stalking him in a series of disguises. Although the character is significantly different from the smaller role Quilty plays in the novel, Sellers and Kubrick have a great time with the part which, while hilariously comic, also retains an element of the sinister. Sellers' superb performance must have played a large part in Kubrick's casting of him in several roles in his next film, 'Dr Strangelove'.
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People who added this item 11 Average listal rating (5 ratings) 6.2 IMDB Rating 6.3
This modest little filmed play is one of the true oddities on the list and has slipped through the cracks more than most of these films, although it is now available on DVD. Based on the play 'The Dock Brief' by 'Rumpole of the Bailey' creator John Mortimer, 'Trial and Error' (as it was renamed for the American market) is a minimalist, cerebral but often broadly grotesque black comedy. For the most part a two-man show, the film focuses on Richard Attenborough, a humble man who has murdered his wife because he can't stand her sense of humour. He is assigned barrister Wilfred Morgenhall (Peter Sellers) to defend him.

The story is slightly ludicrous but 'Trial and Error' uses it as a mere springboard for the characters. Attenborough, as the meek murderer, is extremely funny in a fittingly low-key way, while Sellers gives one of his finest semi-serious performances as Morgenhall, whose tragically feeble career and icongruous pomposity provide the film with the meat of its pathos-tinged appeal. While the scenes in which Attenborough recalls his irritating wife are often intensely grating, they are offset by the expertly written and inventively directed play between Attenborough and Sellers. Far from a classic, 'Trial and Error' is a curio well worth seeing for its modest triumphs. The climax (which initially seems anti-climactic) is better the more you think about it and the final scene elevates the film considerably.
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'Inspector Hornleigh Goes to It' (released in America under the punchier title 'Mail Train') was the third and final entry in a trilogy of Inspector Hornleigh films which have since been all but forgotten. Based on a popular radio character, the first two Hornleigh films were released in the late 30s, disqualifying them from inclusion in this list. However, those films (the murky, plodding 'Inspector Hornleigh' (1938) and the much better 'Inspector Hornleigh on Holiday' (1939)) both feel like dry runs for 'Inspector Hornleigh Goes to It', a far more well-rounded comedy-mystery-thriller which brings together all the best elements of the other two films and throws in a strong action climax to boot.

A consistent criticism of the Hornleigh films is that the title role was miscast and it's true that Gordon Harker does an adequate but hardly stirling job as the curmudgeonly Inspector. Fortunately, however, he has more than able support from the wonderful Alastair Sim as his bumbling assistant Sergeant Bingham. Bingham's blockheaded antics are the highlights of all three films and the part proved a pivotal early role in Sims growing popularity, although he wisely chose to put an end to the series to avoid being typecast in future.
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People who added this item 67 Average listal rating (38 ratings) 7.1 IMDB Rating 7.2
Blithe Spirit (1945)
Before David Lean became a director of epics like 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' and 'Lawrence of Arabia', he made a series of utterly charming, smaller scale British films that I actually prefer to his later, more renowned works. Among these were two of the greatest Dickens adaptations ever put on screen and an acclaimed series of Noel Coward adaptations. The four Coward films were primarily dramatic scripts (most famously the perfect 'Brief Encounter' (1945)) but the third was a light-hearted, Technicolor screen version of one of Coward's comedies, the supernatural screwball 'Blithe Spirit'.

The story of a cocky novelist whose attempts to expose a criminal psychic result in the accidental summoning up of his dead ex-wife, 'Blithe Spirit' is completely stolen from under its main casts' noses by the hilarious performance of Margaret Rutherford as batty medium Madame Arcati. Rutherford's acting here is typically intelligent, never veering into the 'Ain't I cute' schtik that a less talented actress would rely on. She nails the characters quirks and tics completely but she also has the heart to not reduce her to only these. This sort of meaty characterisation became Rutherford's stock in trade across a series of impressive dotty dowagers, headstrong aunts and wily widows. 'Blithe Spirit', however, remains perhaps her crowning achievement.
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People who added this item 49 Average listal rating (33 ratings) 7.2 IMDB Rating 7.6
Writer-producer-director team Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder were responsible for some of the strongest films on this list (as well as such achievements as having written scripts for Hitchcock, including the classic 'The Lady Vanishes' (1938)). While I am exceptionally fond of many of these films, few make it onto my list of all-time favourites. One exception is 'Green for Danger', a ferociously entertaining comedy-mystery which provided Alastair Sim with perhaps his greatest screen role next to 'Scrooge' (1951). Sim has always been one of my favourite screen presences and the role of Inspector Cockrill, a brilliant detective whose fondness for toying with his suspects for his own amusement proves to be his tragic flaw, fits him perfectly.

Many writers and directors seemed to have difficulty knowing how best to use Sim's unique comic talents and he therefore often ended up playing small supporting roles even in those films where he received top billing. In 'Green for Danger', however, Sim is the undisputed star, even though he receives low billing on the poster and doesn't actually appear until a third of the way through the film. Until that point, 'Green for Danger' is an intriguing, formulaic mystery. Sim's arrival introduces a strong blackly comic element which turns the film on its head and triples the entertainment value. Cockrill is a masterful comedy creation; smirking on the sidelines after inciting chaos, dispatching egos with one barbed comment, all the while massaging his own considerable ego. Although 'Green for Danger' remains largely forgotten by the majority, it has picked up a well-deserved cult following. Sim would play an effective variation on the detective role several years later as the even more intimidating titular Inspector in the screen version of J.B. Priestley's 'An Inspector Calls' (1954).
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People who added this item 18 Average listal rating (14 ratings) 6.8 IMDB Rating 6.9
Hue and Cry (1947)
'Hue and Cry' is generally considered to be the first of the legendary Ealing comedies. This fact alone makes it noteworthy, and while it's not among the strongest entries in the series it is a charming little children's adventure film nonetheless. Alastair Sim received top billing in the advertising but he actually appears for less than ten minutes. In those ten short minutes, however, he shows his skill for creating an indelible character sketch and his scenes are superb comic interludes in amongst the ripping yarn of a gang of young boys taking on London's criminal underworld.
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People who added this item 9 Average listal rating (5 ratings) 7 IMDB Rating 7
This Gilliat-Launder comedy-drama is one of the most unusual films on the list. 'Dulcimer Street' (also known as 'London Belongs to Me') tells the overlapping stories of the tenants of a large terraced house in pre-WWII London. The tone shifts wildly between comedy, drama, thriller and social comment but somehow what emerges is a thoroughly engaging and entertaining film.

The main dramatic arc featuring Richard Attenborough's struggles with a life of crime is beautifully offset by the film's most unusual strand: Alastair Sim's quirkily brilliant turn as a phoney psychic who attempts to exploit the gullible landlady to his own advantage. This is a sleazy, deeply unsympathetic character and Sim expertly brings out both the unsettling and the hilarious elements of the character, while also running off with all the best lines. For all it's occasional structural problems and slightly anti-climactic ending, 'Dulcimer Street' is a grippingly offbeat piece of filmmaking.
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People who added this item 7 Average listal rating (5 ratings) 7.6 IMDB Rating 6.8
Although it would not be eligible for inclusion in this list given that it does not feature any of my big 6, I've never been at all fond of Ealing's much-loved 'Whisky Galore'. I much prefer this sprightly, light-hearted caper that does the same for the Welsh as 'Whisky Galore' did for the Scottish; i.e. gives them a gentle stereotypical ribbing while also making them the film's heroes.

'A Run for Your Money' follows the adventures of two Welsh coal miner brothers who win a trip to London to see the England vs Wales Rugby match. Once there however, they quickly become seperated. One of them is marked by a female con artist while the other runs into an old friend and ends up stumbling around the city drunk and wielding a full-size harp. In a lovely supporting role, the brilliant Alec Guinness gets to show his comic subtlty once again as Whimple, the serious-minded Echo reporter who is charged with looking after the two fish out of water when he'd much rather be writing about gardening. It's a terrific, sadly forgotten comedy packed full of incident and laughs.
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People who added this item 20 Average listal rating (12 ratings) 7.3 IMDB Rating 7.5
The promise of the wonderful Alastair Sim and Margaret Rutherford coming together isn't quite met by this fun if slightly too silly Gilliat-Launder comedy. Still, it's by no means either of the stars' fault as they are both as brilliant as ever. The script, which sees a boy's and girl's school accidentally merged and their respective headteacher's desperately trying to cover up this fact from their pupils' parents, needed to be a tad funnier and the film rides on the appeal of its performances. Still, it's all good fun and appealing enough to make this list. Sim and Rutherford also receive briliant support from the gamely hilarious Joyce Grenfell, another mainstay of British comedy.
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People who added this item 237 Average listal rating (136 ratings) 7.2 IMDB Rating 7.1
Stage Fright (1950)
Having made his name internationally with a string of Hollywood films, including classics such as 'Rebecca'(1940), 'Shadow of a Doubt' (1943) and 'Notorious'(1946), Alfred Hitchcock returned briefly to Britain to make 'Stage Fright', an underrated comedy thriller which stands alongside his most entertaining work. Although he brought with him two Hollywood stars, Marlene Dietrich (superb as always) and Jane Wyman (miscast), Hitchcock's cast mainly consists of British actors, most notably Alastair Sim in a brilliant comedy turn as Wyman's father (?!!). Sim makes the most of being given a central role with plenty of screentime and its only a shame that the Hitchcock-Sim combination was never explored further. Also notable for fans of British comedy is a short comedic interlude featuring the scrumptious Joyce Grenfell as a fairground stall owner.
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People who added this item 189 Average listal rating (113 ratings) 7.5 IMDB Rating 7.7
'The Lavender Hill Mob' is another comedy masterpiece from Ealing. Although it is less frequently mentioned than 'Kind Hearts and Coronets' or 'The Ladykillers', 'The Lavender Hill Mob' is every inch their equal. Fast-paced, concise, funny and thrilling, this brilliant little crime caper features a stunningly subtle central performance from Alec Guiness as a bored bank clerk who hatches a plan to steal a fortune. Also excellent is Stanley Holloway as his more verbose accomplice. Like many British comedies of the time starring Guiness, 'The Lavender Hill Mob' also got some Oscar recognition, with a win for its taut little screenplay and a well deserved acting nomination for Guiness.
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People who added this item 109 Average listal rating (68 ratings) 7.4 IMDB Rating 7.4
'The Man in the White Suit' is a great little satire from Ealing studios, starring Alec Guiness as a young research chemist who is attempting to create an everlasting fabric. When he unexpectedly succeeds, he quickly falls foul of trade unionists and managers alike who will stop at nothing to suppress his invention. The humour here is broader than in some of the stronger Ealing comedies and Guiness, though predictably great, has less to work with in his characterization. Nevertheless, 'The Man in the White Suit' is a charming delight, its Oscar nominated script delivering the requisite amount of thrills and guffaws. The unique sound effects of Guiness's machine is one running joke that has entered film history.
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People who added this item 19 Average listal rating (9 ratings) 7.8 IMDB Rating 7.2
Mario Zampi's multi-stranded 'Laughter in Paradise' is a fast-paced comedy with moments of genius. The story concerns a well-known practical joker who passes away and, as his final joke, leaves stipulations in his will that will test his relatives to their limit. Timid bank clerk Herbert (George Cole) must stage a fake hold-up at his bank, snobbish Agnes Russell (Fay Compton) must take work as a maid, womanizing cad Simon Russell (Guy Middleton) must marry the first woman he speaks to and trashy crime novelist Deniston Russell (Alastair Sim) must get himself arrested and jailed for 28 days.

The main problem with 'Laughter in Paradise' is that inevitably the four plot strands are of differing quality. By far the best (and, fortunately, the most dwelled upon) is Alastair Sim's side-splittingly hilarious attempts to get arrested. Of course, Sim gives the film's standout performance (and among the finest of his career) as he dithers and worries and cringes his way to prison. However, the writing of this delicious premise is noticably stronger than any of the others as well, placing Sim in some superbly inventive situations. By contrast, Fay Compton's plot becomes mawkishly moralistic too quickly, Guy Middleton's plot is underdeveloped (and, as always, Middleton feels like he was only hired because Terry-Thomas was unavailable!) and George Cole's plot is endearing but chaotic. Depsite its flaws, 'Laughter in Paradise' is wonderfully entertaining throughout and teeters on the classic whenever Sim is on screen.
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People who added this item 8 Average listal rating (6 ratings) 7.2 IMDB Rating 6.4
Alastair Sim made 'Folly to Be Wise', based on a play by his friend James Bridie, one of his pet projects and Gilliat and Launder helped him bring it to the screen. While not one of the strongest of British comedies (the film is clearly just a filmed play, despite some failed attempts to make it seem more cinematic towards the end), 'Folly to Be Wise' is still an enjoyable little film thanks mainly to Sim's excellent performance as an exasperated chaplain of an army base who struggles to find appropriate entertainment for the troops.

I went back and forth with my opinion on 'Folly to Be Wise'. While it is stagey, as a lover of good dialogue I very much enjoyed the lengthy debate over marriage, in which we see the panellists of Sim's 'Brain Trust' come emotionally unpicked in sometime glorious style. However, it also features some truly weak dialogue, like the down-to-earth soldier's supposedly inspiring rant about 'judys' towards the end. Nevertheless, 'Folly to Be Wise' is a fascinating little curio which is worth watching mainly for Alastair Sim in truly top form.
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Anthony Asquith's film adaptation of Oscar Wilde's 'The Importance of Being Earnest' has a wonderful cast, including Margaret Rutherford in a sadly small role. It is best remembered for a wonderful turn by Edith Evans, whose incredulous 'A HANDBAG?!!' is the stuff of legend. Although it is essentially a filmed play (and not quite as good as Asquith's earlier screen version of George Bernard Shaw's 'Pygmalion'), 'The Importance of Being Earnest' never attempts to hide its stage origins and, indeed, plays them up. Although performances are uniformly fine, no actor attempts to upstage the superb material and merely relish the chance to be involved in an Oscar Wilde script. Viewers are advised to do the same.
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People who added this item 15 Average listal rating (12 ratings) 6.2 IMDB Rating 6.9
The Detective (1954)
Scraping onto this list by the skin of its teeth, 'Father Brown' (released in America as 'The Detective') is a wobbly adaptation of the books written by G. K. Chesterton about a crime solving priest. Although it is not entirely successful and most of the attempts at actual comedy fall completely flat, 'Father Brown' is still a sweetly enjoyable film thanks mainly to a strong central performance by Alec Guinness, who brings out the title character's goodness and roguish subversiveness with his trademark subtlty. Also excellent is Peter Finch as master criminal Flambeau and his scenes with Guinness are wonderful to watch. Although the story itself is riddled with flaws, topped off by a tremendously unsatisfactory climax, the script also has some clever dialogue exchanges. Although it's far from a masterpiece, 'Father Brown' is never dull and proves a fun way to pass an afternoon.
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People who added this item 392 Average listal rating (228 ratings) 7.6 IMDB Rating 7.8
Another contender for the very best of the prestige Ealing comedies, 'The Ladykillers' is a perfectly plotted, paced and performed crime farce. Unlike 'The Lavender Hill Mob' or 'Hue and Cry', thrills are played down in favour of claustrophobic character comedy as an intially successful robbery spirals out of control when the ill-gotten loot is discovered by a sweet but seemingly indestructible little old lady. At this point the film darkens considerably as the crooks become desperate to avoid jail at all cost. The cast is exquisite, including memorable turns from Herbert Lom and a young Peter Sellers. But the film belongs completely to its two leads, a fiendishly diabolical Alec Guiness whose performance is a fittingly hysterical tribute to Alastair Sim, and Katie Johnson as the lovely Mrs. Wilberforce who charms and excruciates in equal measures. One of the most perfectly realised comedies to emerge from Britain, 'The Ladykillers' is a darkly scintillating classic.
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People who added this item 11 Average listal rating (7 ratings) 7 IMDB Rating 6.6
The Boulting Brothers, John and Roy, became a major force in British comedy during the 50s. They began their career (alternating directing and producing duties) mainly with dramtic thrillers such as the excellent 'Seven Days to Noon' (1950) and the classic 'Brighton Rock' (1947). 'Private's Progress', however, marked a change of pace into incisive, sophisticated satire which informed the majority of their best films from thereon in.

Starring Ian Carmichael and Terry-Thomas, with excellent support from Richard Attenborough and Dennis Price, 'Private's Progress' is an army caper with a surprisingly cynical undercurrent which prevents it ever coming within an inch of the flag-waving patriotism that other forces comedies favoured. The Boulting Brothers were always far more likely to undermine than to pander and 'Private's Progress' is a deliberately paced film which doesn't seem at once hilarious but which seeps in slowly until the surprisingly unforgiving finale.
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People who added this item 22 Average listal rating (15 ratings) 7.5 IMDB Rating 7.4
The Green Man (1956)
Written by Gilliat and Launder, 'The Green Man' is a dark farce about a freelance assassin and the hapless vacuum cleaner salesman who unwittingly stumbles on his assassination plot. Broad but enormously entertaining, 'The Green Man' features a plum role for Alastair Sim as the killer, as well as some fine support from George Cole as the man on his trail, Jill Adams as his reluctant accomplice and especially Colin Gordon as her stuffy fiance. It also features an unfortunately wasted Terry-Thomas in an ultra-brief, unfunny cameo which could easily have been omitted but somehow earns him a joint top-billing.
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People who added this item 7 Average listal rating (6 ratings) 5.5 IMDB Rating 6.1
Lucky Jim (1957)
The Boulting Brothers' take on Kingsley Amis's novel about a bored History professor at an English university, 'Lucky Jim' is an amusing film which perhaps lacks the bite of some of the other Boulting Brothers films. Certainly, those who have read Amis's book (I have not, as of yet) will tell you that the film lacks the teeth of the novel and that concessions have been made to cinematic expectations, particularly a tacked on, flaccid final chase scene.

But for all those negative comments, as a stand-along piece of afternoon entertainment, 'Lucky Jim' is consistently enjoyable and stuffy British institutions do not escape the usual ribbing The Boultings were so fond of meting out. The chief reason to see 'Lucky Jim', however, is probably the finest performance by the underrated Ian Carmichael. Usually lumbered with samey upper-class twit roles (which he still played wonderfully), here Carmichael gets a chance to flex his acting muscles a little more with a character who is not as oblivious and easily manipulated as his usual stock in trade. Terry-Thomas is enjoyable in a smaller role as Jim's love rival, a pompous twit who ends up in a hilariously ineffectual fight with him.
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People who added this item 6 Average listal rating (2 ratings) 7 IMDB Rating 6.8
The Boulting Brothers take on the legal system in this charming, episodic tale of newly qualified barristers sharing a London flat. Ian Carmichael and Richard Attenborough are enjoyable as the two eager youths and its a delightful experience following them through the experiences of their mostly disasterous first trials. Also of note in 'Brothers in Law' is Terry-Thomas is a short, enjoyable role as a rogue whose case proves pivotal in teaching Carmichael's character a few unpleasant truths about the legal system. This is an atypical role for Thomas and he struggles with a Cockney accent, lapsing back into his trademark posh voice frequently. Nevertheless, his scenes with Carmichael are a lot of fun and the role proved to be a valuable stepping stone in Thomas's flourishing career.
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People who added this item 40 Average listal rating (22 ratings) 7.6 IMDB Rating 7.6
Directed by Ronald Neame(who has already collaborated successfully with Alec Guinness on 'The Card'), 'The Horse's Mouth' is quite unlike any other film on this list and rather unique in general. The story of a vulgar, rougish painter in search of the perfect expression of his artistic vision, 'The Horse's Mouth' is particularly distinguished by a poetic, unpredictable Oscar-nominated script by Guinness himself.

For once, Guinness is less than subtle in his lead performance. His portrayal, along with almost all others in the film, is broad and stagey but this potentially distracting factor slowly reveals itself as very fitting for the material and Neame's film emerges as a colourful, quirky, whimsical treat which will baffle some and delight others.
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People who added this item 43 Average listal rating (29 ratings) 6.9 IMDB Rating 7.3
Legendary director Carol Reed's brilliant film of Graham Greene's 'Our Man in Havana' is a satire on espionage as Alec Guiness's vacuum cleaner salesman James Wormold is recruited as a Havana agent by the British Secret Service. Rather than follow his instructions to recruit other agents, however, Wormold simply invents them and sketches plan for a rocket launching pad based on his own vacuum cleaner parts. Predictably, this leads to complications when Wormold's importance as an agent grows and he is assigned staff! A marvellous, exciting and dryly funny little film with a great cast including Noel Coward, Ralph Richardson and Maureen O'Hara.
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People who added this item 33 Average listal rating (23 ratings) 6.7 IMDB Rating 7.5
Robert Hamer, director of 'Kind Hearts and Coronets', ended his directorial career with this broader but no less entertaining comedy about a weak-willed man (Ian Carmichael) who enrols in the School of Lifemanship, an institution that teaches how to one-up your fellow man and avoid being exploited yourself. A largely amoral film that adds a moral twist in the last few seconds, 'School for Scoundrels' is fiendishly brilliant, not least for the chance to see Ian Carmichael, Alastair Sim AND Terry-Thomas all in the same film.

Sim, as Stephen Potter, the head of the lifemanship institute, is typically underused but as usual he steals the film in the few scenes he does have, making Potter a morally-dubious but lovable rogue. He also indulges in some of the greatest fourth wall breaking since Groucho Marx! Carmichael enjoys the chance to play both befuddled and assertive as he learns how to handle himself against the bullies. And Thomas is simply superb as the cad who finds the tables turned. This was surely a custom-written part for Thomas and one of the defining roles of his career. The first tennis match between him and Carmichael is a classic scene of British comedy.
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People who added this item 33 Average listal rating (20 ratings) 6.8 IMDB Rating 7
One of the finest and often most overlooked of British comedies, 'Two-Way Stretch' was clearly a major influence on one of Britain's greatest sitcoms, 'Porridge'. Roles played by Peter Sellers, Bernard Cribbins and Lionel Jeffries are clear early prototypes of Fletch, Godber and Mackay respectively. (These three actors were later reunited in the nowhere-near-as-good British crime caper 'The Wrong Arm of the Law')

'Two-Way Stretch' features an ingenious plot in which the inmates of a prison devise a scam to break out of, and then back into, prison, thereby giving them the perfect alibi for a crime they will commit in the interim. The films very fine script is given an extra boost by a cracking leading turn from Sellers as one of the convicts and a suitably mugging Lionel Jeffries as his nemesis, the strict prison officer 'Sour' Crout.
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People who added this item 10 Average listal rating (6 ratings) 7.5 IMDB Rating 7.1
More 'fun' than 'funny' per se, 'Make Mine Mink' is a charming caper comedy about a gang of elderly misfits who all share the same lodgings and have become bored with their humdrum lives. When they find themselves obliged to intervene in the case of a stolen mink coat, the motley crew suddenly rediscover a purpose in life and set themselves up as latter day Robin Hoods, stealing mink coats and giving the proceeds to the poor.

Elements of the crass cheesiness that spoiled many 60s British comedies are creeping in here, not least in the intrusive music and the godawful cartoon credits but 'Make Mine Mink' remains a reliably entertaining watch, with Terry-Thomas in particular keeping things afloat with his spirited turn as the Major and Athene Seyler doing well in a role that one can't help wish had been played by Margaret Rutherford.
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People who added this item 23 Average listal rating (15 ratings) 6.7 IMDB Rating 6.8
Based on a short story by James Thurber and directed by Ealing veteran Charles Crichton, 'The Battle of the Sexes' is a film of small events and mostly amused smiles over big laughs. But it builds to one of the funniest extended climactic set-pieces of any film on the list. The tongue-in-cheek, dated take on gender politics is actually a superfluous element that is little dwelled upon. 'The Battle of the Sexes' is more about the battle between old and new than between man and woman.

Peter Sellers gives one of his most admirably muted performances as Mr. Martin, an elderly Scottish clerk at a weaving company whose entire way of life is threatened by the arrival of a brash American woman who holds sway with the easily manipulated boss. Sellers is totally convincing as elderly, Scottish and quietly humble. The slow build to the aforementioned final sequence, in which Sellers is driven to attempted murder, is full of good moments but it is that lengthy murder scene at the end that really makes 'The Battle of the Sexes' a must to seek out.
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People who added this item 10 Average listal rating (8 ratings) 6.4 IMDB Rating 6.8
Sidney Gilliat's adaptation of Kingsley Amis's novel (scripted by Bryan Forbes, who went on to direct many great British films himself) indicates the sort of direction popular British comedy might have gone in the 60s if not for the domination of the Carry On ilk. 'Only Two Can Play' blends farcical comedy with the so-called Kitchen Sink Drama that was becoming popular in Britain at the time, to create a very funny but pleasingly dramatic little curio which is much better than its sex-comedy synopsis sounds.

Peter Sellers gives another fine semi-dramatic turn as Welsh librarian and amateur drama critic John Lewis, a man who finds himself torn between his wife and the attentions of the attractive, rich wife of a local councillor. The story is writ small while the comedy is often writ large but somehow it really, really works. Sellers farcical flailings only serve to intensify the dramatic scenes when they come, as Lewis begins to see what a pathetic figure he has become. A popular film at the time, 'Only Two Can Play' has fallen off the radar somewhat but for those who dig it up there's much to admire here.
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People who added this item 30 Average listal rating (19 ratings) 6.9 IMDB Rating 6.8
The Boulting Brothers third collaboration with Peter Sellers, 'Heavens Above!' is a superb comedy with an impressive dramatic element. Sellers brilliantly portrays Reverend John Smallwood, a Brummie vicar whose progressive Christian attitude is at odds with the supposedly Christian locals of a small country village. As usual, the Boulting Brothers and Sellers have great fun puncturing pomposity and undermining hypocrisy as Smallwood scandalises the locals with his egalitarian treatment of blacks and gypsys.

Also excellent in a smaller role as Smallwood's predecessor is Ian Carmichael, while the supporting casts also include ubiquitous favourites such as Eric Sykes, Irene Handl and Miles Malleson. This terrific film is somewhat marred by a silly, rushed ending which feels at odds with the rest of the carefully structured, dramatically deft storytelling. Still, for the rest of the runtime 'Heavens Above!' is one of the Boulting Brothers last great triumphs and further fuel for the argument that Sellers is one of the greatest British actors we've even had, be the role comedic, dramatic or a mixture of the two.
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During the 40s, 50s and 60s there was a run of great British films which are endlessly fun and easy to watch. A cut above the innuendo-laden Carry On films or the starring vehicles for the likes of Norman Wisdon and George Formby (although the latter holds a very special place in my heart), these witty, often blackly comic little films were largely the work of a handful of directors including the Boulting Brothers, Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, Mario Zampi and those working for Ealing Studio's (Alexander Mackendrick, Charles Crichton, etc.), but occasionally other directors made films that warrant inclusion in this group, including some big hitters like Alfred Hitchcock, David Lean and Stanley Kubrick.

The main attractions here were a group of oft-underrated, superb comedy performers who crop up throughout these films: Alastair Sim, Margaret Rutherford, Terry-Thomas, Ian Carmichael, Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers are my big 6, and they were often joined by the wonderful likes of George Cole, Joyce Grenfell, Irene Handl, Sid James, Miles Malleson, John le Mesurier, Richard Attenborough and Dennis Price to name but a few. In an attempt to group together a collection of the must-see films of this subgenre, I've limited myself to those films that star at least one of my list of the big 6 (which means some very famous films like 'Whiskey Galore' are not included) and also to films that I actually liked (goodbye 'Carlton Browne of the F.O., cheerio 'Innocents in Paris', a most emphatic ta-ta to 'Geordie'). I hope I've created a nice little checklist for anyone curious about British comedy and I hope to keep adding to it as I see more of these little gems.

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