Saturday, June 10, 2017

Laughter in Paradise

I mentioned yesterday that I had recently picked up Laughter in Paradise on a cheap, bare-bones DVD. It's more than worth a watch, and worth a buy at the low price.

Henry Russell (Hugh Griffith), one of those people who is known for being known; in this case, he's a famous practical joker. Or, more accurately, was known, since he's on his deathbed and his death is what kicks off the action of the movie. It turns out that Henry had four relatives of various closeness, and he's included each of them in his will. Henry has left each of those four relatives the princely sum (for the early 1950s) of £50,000. But there's a catch. Each of them has to perform certain actions to earn the money, and for all of them, those actions are out of character:

  • Agnes Russell (Fay Compton) is Henry's sister. She lives alone, childless, with a maid whom she treats like dirt. Henry's task for her is to take on a job as a domestic servant and do it for a month without getting fired.
  • Deniston (Alastair Sim) is a successful writer, except that he writes pulp fiction under a series of aliases. He's engaged to Elizabeth (Joyce Grenfell) who doesn't know anything about Deniston's real job. His task is to get himself arrested and spend 28 days in jail in the manner of the characters he writes about.
  • Herbert (George Cole) is a distant cousin who works as a bank clerk, and is very meek, constantly badgered by his boss. Henry wants Herbert to don a mask and get a gun, and then hold up his boss without being discovered for a full two minutes.
  • Simon (Guy Middleton) is a smarmy Jack Carson type who mooches off of everybody and uses women and discards them. Henry's job for Simon is to marry the first unmarried woman he talks to.

Naturally, all four have difficulties fulfilling the terms of their job. Agnes winds up working for an irascible Scot; nothing goes right for Herbert; and no matter what Deniston tries, he can't seem to get anybody to notice him and arrest him. There's a lot of scope for comedy here, and much of that scope is utilized. Sim is delightful as always, while Cole and Compton both do well too.

The movie is overall strong, with a well-handled ending, although there are some problems. First of all, I can't imagine any jurisdiction making it legal to have a will that forces the beneficiaries to commit crime in order to receive what's bequeathed to them, as two of the characters here have to do. But that's minor suspension of disbelief; the bigger problem I had was with Simon's character, who is really an obnoxious jerk. You want everybody else to smack him.

TCM ran Laughter in Paradise recently as part of their Star of the Month salute to Audrey Hepburn. She's in the credits under "Introducing", and she only gets one scene as a cigarette girl Simon talks to (and by the terms of the will, he should be marrying her).

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