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  School for Scoundrels One Up, Put DownBuy this film here.
Year: 1960
Director: Robert Hamer
Stars: Ian Carmichael, Terry-Thomas, Alastair Sim, Janette Scott, Dennis Price, Peter Jones, Edward Chapman, John Le Mesurier, Kynaston Reeves, Jeremy Lloyd, Hattie Jacques, Irene Handl, Hugh Paddick, Barbara Ruscoe, Gerald Campion, Monty Landis, Charles Lamb
Genre: Comedy
Rating:  8 (from 2 votes)
Review: Henry Palfrey (Ian Carmichael) gets off a train at Yeovil and makes his way, following various signs, to the College of Lifemanship, which is run by Mr Potter (Alastair Sim). Palfrey arrives late, and is forced to wait outside while Potter delivers his speech to the new students, which offers his philosophy in a nutshell: if you're not one up, you're one down. Later, Palfrey has a meeting with Potter and tells him his tale of woe, which all started when he literally bumped into an attractive young lady called April (Janette Scott) on the bus. How can Palfrey win her over and ditch his losing streak? Potter offers the solution.

Written by Peter Ustinov and Frank Tarloff under the names of Ustinov's friend Patricia Moyes and producer Hal E. Chester, School for Scoundrels was based on the series of books by Stephen Potter which humorously mapped out the ways to get your own back on those who had slighted you, and become top dog in the process. As Palfrey, Carmichael is an ideal bit of casting; despite being in an apparently advantaged position in class and occupation (he's an executive in the city), he lets everyone walk all over him, proving the maxim that nice guys finish last. But all that's about to change.

Palfrey's main rival is Raymond Delauney (Terry-Thomas on top form), the very type of cad that the loser aspires to be. Turning up at a restaurant with April, Palfrey finds that his reservation has been placed under the name of "Poultry" by his imperious assistant at the office, and as a result loses his table. To the rescue bounds Delauney, who is quite taken with April and offers to share his table, and so doing, dominates the evening, leaving Palfrey to foot the bill. Undeterred, Palfrey takes up Delauney's offer of a tennis match, and is once again humiliated in front of April, all to the sounds of Delauney continually observing, "Hard cheese!"

Some of Palfrey's ineptitude is a bit hard to believe. After being embarrassed that he has no car, he ends up being fooled into purchasing a monstrous old banger by two wily used car dealers (Dennis Price and Peter Jones), even though it's patently a terrible deal. It's no wonder that he needs the advice of the College of Lifemanship, but the film provides best entertainment as sketches rather than as a satisfying storyline. As Potter, Sim is cool, calm and collected, always in control, and it's this attitude that influences Palfrey to adapt his ways, with Carmichael always convincing and admirably deft in his transformation.

Although it looks quaint on the surface, there's an undercurrent of cruelty to School for Scoundrels. Luckily, when Palfrey gets his own back on the used car dealers, we can feel they get their just desserts, but taking his revenge on Delauney turns politely nasty, from smashing up the back of his sports car to insinuating that there's more to Palfrey's relationship with April than she's letting on. By the time the plot gets to "woo-manship", that is, getting a woman into bed without needing to marry her, the film gets cold feet, and Palfrey develops a conscience. It's a sweet way to end the film, but comes across as hypocritical after it's illustrated just how ungentlemanly gentlemen can be. Still not to worry, there are plenty of laughs and the charming performances, in the smaller roles as well as the more substantial, are ones to savour. Music by John Addison.

[Studio Canal have released this title on Blu-ray and DVD with a restored print, and interviews from three experts on the film, a stills gallery and the trailer as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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