9 July 2001 | HenryHextonEsq
This fine film is an example of Ealing at its very best, with a superlative script and acting of a very high standard. In watching, one is once more all too sadly aware of the difference in quality between British films of this era and today; there can't have been in recent times a screenplay as cleverly comic, economical and incisive as this is. The level of wit is high, and perfectly suitable for a black comedy such as this. Certain lines and scenes linger agreeably in the memory; the part where Price, in his droll narration, slips into verse, is wonderful, as is the "fight" he has with a lower-class rival; "I'm not going to drawn into a scuffle with you!"
The element of class satire is strong, and while one is shown the lethargy and complacency of the upper classes through the amusing parade of Alec Guinness' characters, Price's corrupt plans are never condemned as such. His character, vigorous and witty, and the clever tool of narration, which in its tone draws in the viewer almost as a confidant. Similarly, but to an even more effective degree than in "Whisky Galore!" (1948) and "The League of Gentlemen" (1959), the viewer is made sympathetic to wrong-doings. The stunningly executed plot and dialogue are finely put across indeed by all of the actors. In the main role, Price refines and defines the cad Mancini perfectly; it really is a great performance, making the character more than memorable. Alec Guinness is great in his 8 roles, making a distinctive actorly mark in all of them. It says a lot that in a career as formidable as Guinness', in TV, film and theatre, his contribution to this film particularly stands out. The two ladies are impeccably played by Valerie Hobson and Joan Greenwood, who contrast quite perfectly; Hobson as rich and strait-laced if certainly beautiful, and Greenwood as the distinctively seductive childhood friend. Price's "juggling" of his two women is wonderfully arch and amusing. The film's ending should be noted as quite ingenious and wonderfully in keeping with the film's overall wit.
In the context even of Ealing, a studio adept at clever comedies, this is an extra-special film. Along with the films of this era of Powell and Pressburger and Carol Reed, this film makes one nostalgic for the days when British film was both distinctively British and universal in its qualities. Wonderfully funny and compelling, this film is one of my few favourites of all and overwhelmingly recommended.