Stanley Windrush (Ian Carmichael) has just been discharged from a stint in the Army and is looking for work, so as he is from a privileged background he hopes he can secure something useful in management. He visits his father (Miles Malleson) at his nudist camp retreat for advice, it not crossing his mind that maybe the old man has the right idea about not getting involved, and follows his suggestion that using his family connections could well be the correct way to go, but his first two tries at finding a position that suits do not turn out very well. Perhaps he could ask his uncle Bertram Tracepurcel (Dennis Price) for a job? He trades in munitions, and surely has something Stanley can work his way up from?
This bracing satire on British life was effectively a sequel to the previous team's Private's Progress, and took the same mocking approach to society as that film did, only instead of sending up the military the Boulting Brothers had the whole of the British way of life in their sights. No one was safe from their accusing glare, not the workers, not the bosses, not the young, old, male, female, you name it, if they contributed to the country they would be lampooned one way or another. And thus, even more than the previous work, was the satire boom of the sixties kicked off with great enthusiasm as Frank Harvey and Roy Boulting's screenplay adapting Alan Hackney's novel implemented a variety of jokes to make their scathing points.
Therefore within a tight, fast-moving hour and three quarters you had near the knuckle saucy jokes that wouldn't be out of place in a Carry On movie rubbing shoulders with fearsomely intelligent political takedowns of both right and left, equally scorned as looking out for their own self-interest at the expense of promoting a better way of getting by together. When Stanley ends up at the Missiles Ltd. factory of his uncle, after one memorable scene where he's shown around a sweets factory manufacturing Num-Yums that consists of machines literally vomiting the contents of the confectionery into the final product thereby inspiring vomiting of Stanley's own, he thinks he can fit in here with no issues. But the best laid plans and all that, as he quickly becomes a pawn in a labour dispute.
Our hero aims to start at the bottom and progress from there, so is employed as a forklift driver, but as he is neither part of the working class nor part of the upper class now he is a problem, a problem Tracepurcel can use to his advantage. What was most notable about this aside from the themes was the cast the Boultings assembled, a veritable who's who of British screen comedy of the day: you could watch Terry-Thomas as one of the bosses decree his employees as an "absolute shower!" in one scene, then watch Margaret Rutherford as Stanley's aunt cling onto her fortune the next, enjoy Richard Attenborough as Tracepurcel's partner pull various Machiavellian stunts to make sinister profits on an international arms deal and so forth, but one man really ran away with the movie and that was Peter Sellers.
Initially Sellers didn't want to take the role of union leader Fred Kite because he didn't think it was funny enough, but in a way that's what makes his interpretation of this dyed in the wool Communist who romanticises the Soviet Union so human. While Price and Attenborough perfectly embodied the sly manipulators who would create trouble to make financial gains, Kite is an idealist. It may be very true to observe the workers don't want to do any more than the barest minimum to earn their wages as they do here, but when you see what they're working for the sense was the Boultings were more on their side than they were the establishment, no matter the fun they have with humourless, petty trade unionism. Kite summed that up, for all the problems he causes which could be wrapped up if everybody stopped being so antagonistic, you do feel sorry for him as he's in a curious manner an innocent. Even Stanley wakes up to the farce the nation has become by the end as the TV debate on the huge strike descends into money-grabbing anarchy in a comedy still as sharp as a tack. Music by Ken Hare.
Honestly I don't believe the Boultings were secretly sympathetic to the trade unionists at all. Instead it came across like they were simply aghast at all sides of the argument and, come the climax, endorsing a resigned retreat into obsolescence. Sure some of the satire of the self-serving mentality among upper and lower classes still packs a punch, but that sense of resignation is very middle class and left a sour aftertaste for me. At least the performances hold up.
26 Aug 2014
Aghast is the wrong word to use with the Boulting Brothers, they were far too sly for that, even too cynical, but in Kite and Sellers' performance they found an equal to Windrush's disillusionment. None of the upper class manipulators (whose arms dealing makes for a stronger case against them these days) get the sequence that Kite does when his family desert him and he finds he can barely feed himself, nor darn his own socks. It's a genuinely sad moment among the savagery, indicating the Boultings reserved sympathy for those whose idealism about how things should be left them all at sea when they realised how they actually were.
Or maybe I just like the incredibly rude jokes smuggled through the censorship of the day.
29 Jun 2016
I think if people want to know what happened to British manufacturing in the 1950's and 60's they could do worse than watch this film. I remember Cammel-Laird shipyard in Birkenhead was at a standstill for six months over a dispute about which workers should instal insulation in two refrigeration ships being built for Japan, carpenters (it was wood insulation) or boilermakers (the wood came in thin sheets). Some things go beyond satire.
There is a very poignant moment here (for me, at any rate) when Liz Fraser asks Ian Carmichael: "Are them your own teeth?" They are so clean and white she thinks they might be dentures. I suppose it's a joke against 'the great unwashed' but it also gives an idea of the sort of boys she's used to being with.