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June 01, 2021

The Green Man

Green Man.jpg

Robert Day - 1956
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

Often critical and commercial successes at the time of release, I sometimes take a look at British comedies from the 1950s up to the period before A Hard Day's Night and "Swinging London", and wonder what the fuss was about. What seemed funny at the time of production might evoke a small chuckle but most likely falls flat. The exception would be those comedies from the production/writing team of Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat. As a team, they may be best known for the series of St. Trinian's films, about anarchic school girls running amuck, with Alastair Sim as both the headmistress and her twin brother in the first of those films. Sim would star in several films from Launder and Gilliat. The Green Man had directorial duties handed over to Robert Day and an uncredited Basil Dearden, but still has more in common with the other films of the production team.

Sim appears here as a paid assassin, Hawkins, known for his bomb making skills. His plot to murder the statesman, Sir Gregory, is interrupted initially by the secretary who suspects that her would-be fiance may be up to no good. This is followed by an ernest door-to-door salesman. William Blake (yes, really) who shows up at the wrong house, getting that home's owner, Ann, involved. What follow is a comedy of errors that involves Hawkins trying to hide his activities, and his inept assistant trying to hide a dead body. There is frenetic activity with several people running between the two houses and up and down staircases, followed by a clue that leads Blake and Ann to an out of the way seaside inn called The Green Man.

What I think makes the difference is that Launder and Gilliat do not simply put their characters into funny situations, but there is a sympathy for their respective foibles. Even in an extreme case like Hawkins, Launder and Gilliat delight in characters that upend the social order. Hawkins makes a point of only assassinating the bullies on the world stage, dictators and self-serving captains of industry. Even the minor characters are affectionately presented, including a chamber trio of middle-aged women who energetically attack Brahms' "Hungarian Dance", and Sir Gregory's secretary, nervous about what's suppose to be a secret rendezvous with her boss. Although prominently billed, Terry-Thomas appears when the action shifts to the Green Man. T-T has been having an affair with the hotel desk clerk. And while it really has nothing to do with the main narrative, it is that inimitable enunciation and cheerful shamelessness, prime T-T, that adds to the humor. Even British life gets a couple poking with jokes at the expense of the BBC and what passes for British cuisine.

David Del Valle's commentary primarily stresses the career of Alastair Sims and Sims' work with Launder and Gilliat. There is also a brief overview of British cinema in the 1950s, especially the comedies of the time. Del Valle also explains the somewhat convoluted history of how Robert Day, previously a cinematographer, made his directorial debut under the supervision of Basil Dearden. While Day had a prolific career in film and television, very little has been of critical note. Basil Dearden has had the more noteworthy filmography, but his own comedies are more low-key. In a roundabout way, The Green Man is revisited in Dearden's penultimate The Assassination Bureau.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at June 1, 2021 07:06 AM