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  Battle of the Sexes, The A Man's World?Buy this film here.
Year: 1959
Director: Charles Crichton
Stars: Peter Sellers, Robert Morley, Constance Cummings, Jameson Clark, Ernest Thesiger, Donald Pleasence, Moultrie Kelsall, Alex Mackenzie, Roddy McMillan, Michael Goodliffe, James Gibson, Noel Howlett, Abe Barker, William Mervyn, Patricia Hayes
Genre: Comedy
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Apparently the battle for supremacy between men and women began in 1492 when Christopher Columbus discovered North America, and things have become only more fractious since. Here is an example of how fraught with tension the American boardroom has turned with a woman in charge: Angela Barrows (Constance Cummings), sending the male colleagues into distraction with her demands. A solution is found by the head of the company, send her to Scotland to take care of overseas business, but this has unforseen consequences...

With Charles Crichton in the director's chair, the aim here was presumably to emulate the classic Ealing comedy of then-recent years, and with the comedy talent of the moment Peter Sellers in the lead role, disguised as was his wont in makeup to lose himself in the character, the stage was set for some British humorous excellence. But somehow it didn't quite turn out that way, as while there were a few laughs for the most part this was fairly mild, that was until a late on plot development that tipped what had been gentle into darker territory. That it didn't have the courage of those convictions was perhaps a blessing.

But then again, it did put the film in the position of ending in something of a damp squib, a quandary that it was evident nobody knew how to resolve with any great style or innovation. Leading up to that the story, based on the James Thurber original, burbled along pleasantly but not exactly hilariously as Angela winds up on a train to Scotland without a colleague, as he has jumped ship after feeling too much of the pressure of the modern business world exemplified by her. However, she does meet Robert Macpherson (Robert Morley), who is returning home after living in America now that his father has died.

There he will take over the Edinburgh company of tweed manufacturers, but not being too wise in the ways of commerce he feels he needs someone to assist him, and Angela is only too happy to do so. Who is not happy are the workers at the offices, as they are none too pleased that their fusty premises and set in their ways traditions are under threat, and while they're too polite to outright complain, none of them are happy when Angela seeks to spruce things up, hence the battle of the sexes of the title which ensues when head accountant Mr Martin (Sellers) opts to sabotage all her good intentions to bring the company bang up to date.

So this was really a business based comedy rather than a gender politics based one, as Angela could just as easily have been a man, and for most of the time her being female looks to be a convenience to hang the contrivances of the plot upon. All three of the leads worked well together, conveying the sense of each hailing from different worlds, but while the character stuff was fair enough, rarely did it have you roaring, more indulgently chuckling. That was until this took a grimmer turn, and Martin decides that he has to take drastic action to ensure he gets his way: murder, which comes out of nowhere and is almost as if it's derived from a different film entirely. Picking up tips from a movie he watches with great interest, little that has gone before makes this seem like his most appropriate course of action, and is far too severe a twist even without the need to bring events to a head. Too uncertain in its aims, would be the judgement. Music by Stanley Black.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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