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  • A mad murderer is on the loose and vowing to kill off all those who done him wrong. Seventh on the list is failed lawyer William Fitch, can Fitch and his equally inefficient cohort Claude Babbington stop the madman before Fitch meets his end?

    This was sadly to be Will Hay's last film before retiring due to ill health that would claim his life in 1949, with a CV boasting only 19 acting credits, it's not a wonder that the fabulous Will Hay is still not a big enough name to befit his considerable comedic acting talent. Of the 19 acting credits to is name, My Learned Friend easily slots into a top five best list, fusing mad cap comedy with delicious dots of dry black humour, it's a brisk and delightful way to spend 74 minutes. Tagging along with Hay is Claude Hulbert as Babbington, full of vigour he is the perfect foil to Hay's brand of delivery, whilst Mervyn Johns has a devilishly good time as the mad vendetta driven Grimshaw. There is no pious propaganda here, no ulterior motives hidden within the structure, it's a simplistic tale given total comedic treatment from a much undervalued British treasure. 9/10
  • My Learned Friend was Will Hay's last great film, imho only surpassed by Oh Mr Porter from 6 years before. As a guide over the years I've seen this one about 9 times and the latter probably over 20 times by now. For a British film made in the War (even though it points out at the beginning it's set Pre-War) there's not a single reference to Hitler & Co. or current politics - most refreshing! That's not to denigrate or lessen the importance of the war against terror, just I'm glad for once it didn't raise a propaganda head in an ordinary comedy.

    Mervyn Johns is out to do in all those people who put him behind bars previously by murdering them one by one. Hay is included as he botched up Johns' defence, and eventually Claude Hulbert too by being Hay's cohort in helping try track him down. The gags and set-piece routines flow thick and fast in only 70 minutes and not a second is wasted - even the final moments leave you in suspense..! My favourite bits are in Safety Wilson's dive, much is made of Hulbert's oddness in such an odd place.

    Hay's comic timing was impeccable as usual, while Hulbert shone in his finest silly ass performance - what a memorable team they made! Although if Hay had been well enough to continue his film career I wonder if he would have jettisoned Hulbert the same as he did with Marriott and Moffat? The film is a wonder to behold, and an endless wonder to me why it's nearly always ignored.
  • fmrryan1 August 2007
    This is an excellent film in so many ways. I would argue Hay's best film, although it does not have the warmth of the earlier films, which are so much more "cosey". In fact this is quite dark and disturbing, perhaps too much so for some viewers. There are so many gems here, especially Hay's opening verbal sparring with the cynical, weary, seen it all, magistrate: Hay: "Well at least I leave this court without a stain on my character!". Magistrate: "Your Mummy and Daddy in heaven will be the best judge of that!" Comparable scenes ensue in the Coroner's Court, when Hay is astonished to hear an Old Bailey Judge described by a witness (so he mistakenly thinks) as one of the lads of the village. Safety Wilson and his den are marvellous, as is Hulbert throughout. Mervyn Johns is completely unhinged as Grimshaw and the scenes in the lunatic asylum are bizarre and disturbing. This is Hay comedy at its blackest and arguably most effective.
  • theowinthrop1 November 2009
    Warning: Spoilers
    You Tube has done another service putting this film on it. Otherwise all I had was a description in a book by Leslie Halliwell.

    Halliwell writes of MY LEARNED FRIEND in his book HALLIWELL'S HUNDRED, where he discusses movies that are flawed but good viewing. The flaw here was that Will Hay was in the last comedy of his great career but looked ill. It really did not effect the movie as much as say Stan Laurel's appearance in ATOLL K did, but it was obvious that Hay had looked better (less pale) only a year or two earlier. Still for an ill man he gives a strong comic performance, backed by two good ones by Claude Hurlbert and Mervyn Johns. Apparently he also directed some scenes.

    Hay is a seedy ex-barrister named William Fitch, first seen in court where he is being tried for fraud. He has been writing letters to wealthy people apparently lying to get them to give him money. The case has been handed (reluctantly) to Hurlbert as barrister (in training) Charles Babbington. He's been in training nearly ten years, and still is considered less promising than some new men on the job. If he loses the case he will be thrown out of the law firm he is in.

    And he loses. The apparently open-and-shut case gives Hay a grand old time playing off Babbington with his indignation and incompetence and the magistrate who rapidly realizes Fitch is smarter than he seems. He has apparently written under a female name for money. Nonsense, says Fitch, his middle name is Evelyn and he had documents to prove it. He writes that he has three tots in front of him, He did - they were three glasses of beer in the pub he wrote the letter in!. The case is dismissed as is Babbington's career in the law.

    Fitch latches on the downcast Babbington in a pub and buys him a drink while they discuss their futures. A possible partnership is put on hold when one Arthur Grimshawe (Johns) pops up. He was unfortunate to have Fitch represent him nearly twenty years earlier in a case about forgery - apparently Grimshawe was innocent but framed. He has just finished his term in prison, and he has started plans to hunt down everyone who sent him to prison and kill them. One is his former barrister. Fitch and Babbington are horrified hearing this, and their feelings are compounded when they shortly hear that the judge at the trial has just mysteriously drowned in the Serpentine.

    The film follows our two well-meaning bunglers trying to catch up and stop the murderous Grimshawe (who is always not only one or two steps ahead but actually able to pop up almost anywhere to give them little clues to the next killing of this false witness or that one). They try to warn a crime kingpin and manage to help create a riot in his gang's headquarters. They try to save an actress and destroy a theatrical production of a "pantomime" of Aladin. Finally they realize the diabolic final murder, which is a replica of a famous attempted seventeenth century event. Only this one is better organized. It leads to Fitch and Babbington nearly wrecking a London landmark.

    Words can't really describe the fun of this film, with scenes like a hapless Babbington watching as his property is stolen in the gangster's lair, and he is picked up by a woman who threatens him with her hair pin. Fitch tries to warn one victim and ends up willingly forgetting his mission to try fleecing the same victim in a poker game! Grimshawe moves silently step by step, allowing everyone to fall over their own feet while the waters part for his. If one recalls Johns' marvelous performance as the trapped architect with the recurring nightmare in DEAD OF NIGHT, his performance as the gleeful and vengeful Grimshawe suggests that his architect might have had a happier future in some prison or asylum than we first thought.

    In short, MY LEARNED FRIEND was (despite Hays appearance) a good final movie turn for a great comic mind. It certainly is well worth searching out and seeing.
  • This was Will Hay's last film and showed a change of direction in that it was a venture into black comedy. Claude Hulbert makes an excellent comic foil and Mervyn Johns is also suitably sinister as a serial murderer. There is a venture into Harold Lloyd territory with Hay and Hulbert clinging to the clock face of Big Ben. Watch out for Ernest Thesiger in a bit part.
  • this is a fine example of british comedy from the hey-day of the genre. hay takes his quintessential character to a new setting and casts a self deprecating shot of yet another facet of british life. a must for fans of the genre and a glimpse of a way of life now gone.
  • Age alone works against this now obscure British comedy, which (for good reasons) was never shown in the United States until the mid-1980s. It isn't difficult see why not: wartime American audiences in the 1940s might have considered themselves too sophisticated for such brisk but old-fashioned English humor (and besides, it had no relevance to the war effort). Will Hay, a popular comedian in his homeland, plays a rather dubious lawyer who finds his name at the tail end of a cheerfully psychotic ex-con's vengeance list, leading him into a roundabout chase as he tries to pursue his own would-be murderer. Historian William K. Everson described the film as a noir-comedy (he introduced the film at the screening I attended, at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley back in 1986), but the quick pace and non-stop vaudeville chatter are more reminiscent of classic pre-war screwball comedy.