Alec (Douglas Barr) is at choir practice, and as he and his fellow singers trill "O For the Wings of a Dove" the vicar notices the boy is not paying as much attention as he should, then discovers the reason: a comic book secreted inside his hymn sheet which the clergyman removes and drops out of the open window without the choir missing a beat. Outside, the offending object falls into the hands of teenage Joe Kirby (Harry Fowler) who scoffs at such kids stuff, and begins reading out a passage from an adventure story to demonstrate its foolishness. But hey, some of this is pretty good...
Hue and Cry was generally acknowledged as the first Ealing Comedy, uniting director Charles Crichton and T.E.B. Clarke, two of the behind the camera talents most often identified with the studio's classics. If this did not enjoy the same high reputation as the duo's most celebrated work together, The Lavender Hill Mob, then it was a statement of intent that they were going to employ the trappings of post-war Britain to create a national cinema that could not have come from anywhere else, and that brand leaves a following continuing to this day. In this case, it was a tale of derring-do aimed at family audiences.
That was to say, children would get a kick out of seeing actors of their own age involved with an adventure, as meanwhile the adults would appreciate the strong sense of humour. Yet there was more to this than the jokes, as you immediately notice there's a different style to each successive sequence, so one scene would be outright humorous, another would be domestic drama, then something a lot more macabre, followed by a definite thriller tone, all of which should have rendered a film which stopped and started with awkward gear changes throughout. However, such was Crichton and Clarke's confidence with their material that you never had qualms.
The man taking top billing was Alastair Sim, which was a bit cheeky seeing as how he only had three short scenes in the whole movie, no matter how much he made those scenes count. His writer character becomes embroiled with the plot when Joe realises there is a hidden code within the pages of the comic, and he and Alec venture to the original author's home to confront him. Sim, much like the film, alters from sinister to flattered to indulgent to terrified all in the space of a few minutes, managing to make this transition as convincing as possible, all the while relishable as a masterclass in how to fashion a memorable extended cameo. That said, it was really the kids who were the stars, with Fowler making the best impression.
His Joe is resourceful but still innocent enough to be fooled by the villains, which generates a fair few suspenseful stretches in among the more obvious comedy, though that comedy is what makes this so entertaining (watch for the hilarious Speak Your Weight machine). Clarke may have been influenced by the classic children's adventure novel Emil and the Detectives, which had been filmed by this point, but he made the basic plot his own and more overtly British, with its landscape of bomb sites left from the then-recent World War, slang peppering the dialogue, and careful attention to locations and attitudes and even the sort of thing boys of the day would carry in their pockets - a white mouse comes in very handy. The identity of the chief bad guy may be a shock to those who knew him from his straight arrow television fame, but it's just another twist in a film that is full of welcome surprises, topped off with a climax which sees what looks like every boy in London joining in to foil the evildoers' schemes then transforms into a chase through a dilapitated building filmed like a horror movie. A gem. Music by Georges Auric.