Sunday, March 26, 2023

Not the former Postmaster General

The UK has long had its share of entertainers who, for whatever reason, never really became successful on this side of the Atlantic. Among them was a man named Will Hay, who made about 20 movies in the UK in the 30s and the early years of World War II. Some time ago I came across one of his movies on Youtube, and only recently finally got around to watching it: Oh, Mr. Porter!.

Will Hay plays William Porter, who works for one of the railways (this being before World War II, Clement Attlee hadn't come around to nationalize the railways yet), but not as a porter. Instead, he's a wheeltapper, who job it was to make certain the steel wheels and axles hadn't deformed through overheating. But Mr. Porter isn't very good at his job, in fact only having it because his sister is married to one of the railway's executives. He screws up again, however, and the other executives want to fire him. His sister says that means living with her and her husband, something the brother-in-law obviously doesn't want.

With that in mind, the bosses look for some sort of suitable out-of-the-way make-work job for Mr. Porter, finding that most of the jobs with the railway are ones he's tried already and failed spectacularly at. Finally, the railway finds something. There's a station in Buggleskelly, Northern Ireland, that basically gets no passenger trains stopping at it, but still needs a station master to handle the odd whistle-stop passenger as well as the limited goods traffic that stops in Buggleskelly. It'll keep Mr. Porter away from Britain in any case.

So they send Mr. Porter over to Buggleskelly, where he finds a ramshackle station house along with two workers, old Jeremiah (Moore Mariott) and young Albert (Graham Moffatt). Still, Mr. Porter wants to do the best job he can, even though in his case he's not competent enough to do anything. In this case, that means trying to get the station in good working condition and getting it to be a place people will want to stop. But of course, everything he tries goes badly wrong. The threat of his being fired and having to go live with his sister still hangs over his head.

At the same time, there's a legend that a ghost haunts the track in the Buggleskelly area, which might go some way to explaining why the station keeps needing a new station manager. Porter investigates, and his nosing into things he probably shouldn't winds up with his coming across a group of gun-runners. They take Porter and the other two employees hostage, forcing them to run the train to get away from the approaching authorities.

This is the first Will Hay movie I've seen, and I don't know how many more of them are available for viewing. I do have to say that Hay is a bit of an acquired taste. The humor is also very much of the pre-war era. If I had to compare Hay to anybody, I think I'd come up with a bit of Joe E. Brown's character from Earthworm Tractors, although that's more because of the heavy equipment being a big part of the plot. There's also a bit of Norman Wisdom, and maybe a bit of Jerry Lewis. But if you like 1930s movies and working-class humor of a bygone era, you'll probably like Oh, Mr. Porter!. The other group it will appeal to are railway buffs, as it shows railroading in a way that no longer exists.

No comments: