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  Will Any Gentleman...? The New Man
Year: 1953
Director: Michael Anderson
Stars: George Cole, Veronica Hurst, Heather Thatcher, Jon Pertwee, James Hayter, William Hartnell, Sid James, Diana Decker, Joan Sims, Brian Oulton, Alan Badel, Wilfred Boyle, Alexander Gauge, Jill Melford, Peter Butterworth, Lionel Jeffries, Brian Wilde
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Henry Sterling (George Cole) is a mild-mannered bank clerk who has been having trouble with his brother Charley (Jon Pertwee) lately, for he is always getting into debt and imploring Henry's better nature to help him out of a jam. But now, his brother may have gone too far, as theatrical impresario Hobson (Sid James) shows up at the bank with a cheque from Charley that the staff all know will bounce, but delivered with confidence that Henry will sort it out for them. This is highly embarrassing, and the manager intervenes, so back home Charley shows up to play on his sibling's sympathies and against the wishes of his wife Florence (Veronica Hurst) he pays the fiver to Hobson. He is delighted and invites him in to watch the show - a hypnosis act.

You may be able to see where this is going, but what it played out as was your basic Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde yarn done for comedy, not the first and certainly not the last, though in the safe hands of Cole, already an old hand at comedy, you were at least guaranteed a few chuckles. The hypnotist, modestly named The Great Mendoza (Alan Badel), ropes Henry into his stage act where he wants a shy man to perform, changing his personality dramatically from meek to seize the day opportunist and cad about town, so of course poor old Henry ends up leaving the theatre without Mendoza lifting the spell (no wonder, after the mayhem he causes). This leaves him to veer from his former self to his current, madcap incarnation with a strum on the harp on the soundtrack to indicate when he's turned.

This was based on a hit stage play, and the theatre provided an abundance of material for British movies for decades, the nineteen-fifties being no different. You can kind of see the origins here, as there were long stretches taking place in around three basic locations, or acts if you like, the central one being in the Sterlings' home which suddenly becomes the haunt of various comic characters. Not just Pertwee, but his fellow Doctor Who star William Hartnell who had a role as a heavy (his grim features often saw him cast in threatening roles before became a children's TV favourite, just as Pertwee was best known as a comic actor). Another fanbase was catered for with Sid James and Joan Sims, in her debut, though they did not share a scene together, but it was nice to think they met here and might have clicked in a way their future endeavours capitalised on.

Peter Butterworth was there too, another Carry On star, though only briefly at the theatre, and star spotters would amuse themselves looking at the bit players and seeing Lionel Jeffries, Brian Wilde, Jean Marsh dancing the Can-Can and public information film pioneer Richard Massingham appearing on the screen for a little. All very well, but did the humour hold up, even with this talented bunch? Though it was never fall down hilarious, this was entertaining and the Technicolor it was shot in demonstrated another aspect of the production: most British comedies of the day would be in black and white, as humour was not blessed with huge budgets, yet here as Henry is yearning to escape from drab suburbia, we can see how his alter ego sees the world as a colourful explosion of possibilities. Every so often he launches into a reverie of imagining himself on a South Seas island, again that wish to escape from the confines of Britain that were as much social as down to the wet weather. Although it had to be said, Sims' reaction to Cole pinching her behind is very much of its time. Music credited to Wally Stott, before she became Angela Morley.

[Network's DVD from The British Film library has an interview with two of the dancers involved, the trailer, a gallery and subtitles as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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