Sunday, December 13, 2015

School for Scoundrels

Some months back, I bought a DVD of the 1960 British film School for Scoundrels. I finally got around to watching it, and since it's available on DVD what with my having bought a copy, I'm more than comfortable doing a full-length blog post on the movie.

Ian Carmichael stars as Henry Palfrey, a man who in the opening scenes of the movie as the opening credits are playing is getting off a train in Yeovil, a middle-of-nowhere town in Exeter, on the way to the southwestern counties of Cornwall and Devon if you were going that far. But Henry isn't. In Yeovil, he follows his signs to the "lifemanship" college run by one Mr. Potter (Alastair Sim). Potter teaches courses in how to be more confident and a winner in life, not unlike what we've seen in The Magnificent Dope, but these classes are on steroids compared to anything Don Ameche's character would have thought up.

First, though, we learn why Henry wants to take these "lifemanship" classes. Everybody's been beating him at life recently, starting when he met lovely April (Janette Scott) while taking the bus to work. He was going to take her out to a nice place for dinner, but his business associate deliberately made the reservation for someplace else. At the dinner reservation, however, he meets old friend Raymond (Terry-Thomas), who graciously lets Henry and April sit at his table and have dinner as a threesome. Except that Raymond has other ideas, pretty much taking Henry's girl right out from under his nose. Henry tries to buy a car to impress April, but he's too stupid even to take the car for a test drive so he ends up with a lemon. You can see why Henry would want at least some assertiveness training.

However, what he gets isn't so much assertiveness training as a way of fleecing people, socially at least if not monetarily, into making oneself appear to be the top man. Through a series of classes with humorous titles like "Gamesmanship" or "Woo-manship", Potter teaches men to be rather ungentlemanly in getting what you want, which apparently works even though I'd think everybody would see through this crap.

Eventually, having gone through the courses, Henry is deemed ready to put these ideas into practice in real life, albeit under the watchful eye of Potter. The ideas work successfully, as Henry fleeces the car dealer, his business partner, and even gets revenge on Raymond both with April and on the tennis court. But perhaps he's a little too successful, as Raymond begins to discover there might be something hinky going on....

School for Scoundrels is one of those little British movies that a lot of people will probably like. I have to admit, however, that I have rather more mixed feelings about it. The thing is, I found Potter's ideas to be so obnoxious that as I said above, anybody would see through it and they'd fail. I'd rather smack people like Potter and Henry, not root for them. (To be fair, however, Raymond is also a jerk.) Still, the movie is more than well enough made, even if not nearly as enjoyable for me as many of the other British comedies of the 1950s and early 1960s.

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