Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Belles of St. Trinian's

A few weeks back TCM ran a night of Alastair Sim movies. One that was new to me was The Belles of St. Trinian's. It's available on DVD, so I'm OK doing a full-length post on it.

The movie starts off with a bit of a prologue about a sheik from one of those oil-producing kingdoms wanting to send one of his daughters off to school in the UK. Apparnetly, the sheik has a bunch of race horses in Britain, and British firms have the extraction contract for the oil, hence the desire to send the girl to the UK. Anyhow, a member of staff from St. Trinian's School for Young Ladies is there to convince him of the benefits of the school, and off she goes.

One wonders what those benefits would be. The school is in a parlous financial state, with headmistress Millicent Fritton (Alastair Sim in drag) constantly post-dating checks, and demanding cash on the barrelhead from the parents of students for tuition. One of those parents is Millicent's brother Clarence (also played by Sim in a dual role), a horse-racing bookie whose kid is probably there because of family reasons. It's discovered that the princess has £100 in spending money in cash, so everybody tries to get at that cash for their own purposes.

We can already see why Millicent would want that cash. As for the students, well that's another matter. The girls are little hell-raisers, but when they discover that the princess' father has a horse running the the Gold Cup (apparently a pretty big race in Britain), they and Clarence want to see how the horse is doing to see whether he should be bet on. This leads to some complications when the horse goes missing (although why the horse wouldn't simply be scratched and the wagers returned is an unanswered question).

The other big plotline involves the people investigating the school's finances. There's the Ministry of Education, who have already seen two of their bureaucrats go missing while investigating the school. Those bureaucrats have gone native, living in an outbuilding on campus. There's also the local police, who have gotten a policewoman Sgt. Gates (Joyce Grenfell) a job on campus to see what exactly is going on at the school.

Sadly, I have to admit that there are a lot of British comedies from the era that I preferred to The Belles of St. Trinian's. Granted Ealing was probably the best in the genre, but some of them, like Sim's earlier Laughter in Paradise, were made at studios (Associated British-Pathé) other than Ealing. As for The Belles of St. Trinian's, it fell a bit flat for me, with Sim not being particularly interesting in drag and the humor consistently being a bit off key. The movie, however, was a big success, engendering several sequels, so obviously a lot of people do like it. Judge for yourself.

As I said before, the movie is available on DVD and you can even get it at the TCM Shop (but this time, not in an in-print Region 1 DVD at Amazon). But the DVD is put out by Reel Vault, a company I've mentioned before as they put out a lot of obscure British stuff that looks like it's all in copyright limbo. The other DVDs I've obtained from them are all bare-bones; I don't have this one so I can't judge.

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