Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Heavens Above!

Some time back, I bought a five-film Peter Sellers box set. I've blogged about all of the movies in it, except for Heavens Above!, so over the weekend I watched that final film in the set.

The scene is Orbiston Parva, a company town that has made its living from the Despard family factory for who knows how long, although it seems like several generations at least. The factory produced "Tranquilax", one of those phony pep pills that probably didn't work any better than a placebo. Anyhow, the local Church of England church is currently without a minister, so the next level up in the Church hierarchy arranges to get a new minister. The Rev. John Smallwood is known the the guy doing the appointment, so he has his secretaries get in touch with Smallwood since they have his contact information on file.

Unfortunately, it turns out that there are two John Smallwoods in the file. The one they wanted was a middle-of-the-road minister who would be thoroughly inoffensive. The one they call up (played by Peter Sellers) works as a prison chaplain. It's a noble enough calling, but one that's going to color a man's view on Christianity, and one can only wonder what that's going to mean for a hidebound town like Orbiston Parva.

In fact, we soon find that the Rev. Smallwood they get takes his Christianity rather seriously, believing in the value of good works. When he gets to town he finds that there's a family, the Smiths, squatting on a plot of land next to the factory that the Tranquilax people intend to use for their expansion plans. The Despards have gotten a legal order to evict the Smiths, who are going to be put into council housing with apparently some of the children going into foster care. When Rev. Smallwood discovers this, he decides to let the Smiths live in the vicarage, since it's got a lot of space thanks to the Despards, and he doesn't need much. What he doesn't realize is that the Smiths are a bunch of grifters.

Meanwhile, Smallwood gets Mrs. Despard (Isabel Jeans) more interested in charity, to the point that she starts a charitable venture with her farmland that threatens to put all the other local producers out of business! Smallwood, for his part, is horrified to learn that Tranquilax is advertising itself as the "three-in-one restorative", since to him the only three-in-one is the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. He starts campaigning against Tranquilax and this, combined with Despard's selling her shares for the charity project, threatens to put the company out of business.

I found myself having rather mixed views on Heavens Above! as I watched. Pretty much everybody gets skewered here, from the Church to the aristocratic types in the form of the Despards, to the underclass, as the Smiths are pretty ruthlessly portrayed as scamming layabouts. But the movie also has a lot of problems. It shouldn't have taken very long to discover that there were in fact two John Smallwoods (the other one is played by Ian Carmichael in one scene), which would have led everybody to be able to figure out what to do. As it stands in the movie, the powers that be come up with a solution that frankly makes no sense. Heavens Above! also veers too much from a gentle comedy to manic, and not to good effect.

Three of the five movies in the box set are quite good, however, so I can certainly recommend the box set as a whole, with Heavens Above! as a sort of extra. Amazon also says the movie is currently available on its streaming service.

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