Harry Hawkins is a middle-aged, rather timid man who makes a quiet living as a repairer of clocks. He's tall, bald, with a deep voice and lugubrious eyes...in fact, he looks a lot like Alastair Sim. Hawkins has another job. He's an assassin, specializing in bumping off puffed- up politicians, blustering generalissimos and all sorts of pompous people we dislike as much as he does. He uses his skill as a clockmaker to build ingenious bombs that sometimes take out more people than was intended, but that is simply an unpleasant side effect of the business. Now Hawkins has a new assignment. He will affect the permanent retirement of an officious member of parliament, Sir Gregory Upshott (Raymond Huntley). After discovering that Sir Gregory is off to a mysterious weekend at a genteel seaside hotel named The Green Man, Hawkins suddenly encounters more problems than he ever bargained for.
The Green Man is one of those clever black comedies the British used to do so well, where murder and seduction are always conducted with the best of British manners. The classic of the genre probably is Kind Hearts and Coronets. This film was written and produced by the star team of Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, who as writers, producers or directors, or all three or in any combination you can come up with, gave us some very good films in the Thirties, the Forties and the Fifties. For The Green Man, they decided to let cinematographer Robert Day have a crack at directing. It wasn't too long before they felt they needed to have a more experienced hand, so they called in Basil Dearden. Without taking a credit, Dearden directed much of the movie. As a consequence, The Green Man, in my view, doesn't flow seamlessly from one sequence to another. Still, it's a very funny, morbid film. The climax, when everyone arrives at The Green Man and the hotel is stuffed with some of Britain's best comic actors, when the action suddenly involves mistaken identities, adultery, lechery, time bombs and Chopped Toad, is excellent.
Alastair Sim as Hawkins gives one of his funniest portrayals...ready for murder (in fact he bashes his "fiancé" after she discovers why he was so eager to woo her and learn where Sir Gregory was going to be) or ready for wooing (in a grotesquely delightful flirting scene between himself and the three genteel ladies of a music trio). Constantly under Hawkins feet is William Blake (George Cole), an ineffectual vacuum cleaner salesman, and Ann Vincent (Jill Adams), a delicious bride-to-be who is Hawkins next-door-neighbor. Although she doesn't want to buy a vacuum cleaner, she finally believes Blake when he says there's a body in her piano. While they realize Hawkins is up to murder at The Green Man, no one at the hotel believes them when the follow Hawkins there. Among the disbelievers are Charles Boughtflower (Terry-Thomas), the lecherous but nice pursuer of the hotel owner's wife; Arthur Borough as the landlord (if you watch Are You Being Served, you'll know him as Mr. Grainger); Dora Bryant as the landlord's wife, a bit flighty but perhaps not opposed to a bit of a tickle with Boughtflower; and, of course, Sir Gregory himself. But then the last thing Sir Gregory wants is either to be killed or to have publicity since he's staying the week-end with a nervous crumpet from the steno pool. Hawkins must rise to the occasion if he's to knock off Sir Gregory; William and Ann must find a way to stop him. All the while, the clock is ticking...and it's attached to the bomb Hawkins made which he is trying to leave next to his victim.
There is a lot of fast-paced farce to The Green Man, especially at the hotel and at Ann's house. It all works because of the clever script and the skill of the actors. Terry-Thomas has a relatively small part, but he and the gap between his front teeth make the most of it. Jill Adams is wonderful to look at and, of course, we get to see her in some frilly underwear. George Cole, who made his reputation playing frustrated but well-intentioned small-time crooks (as in The Belles of St. Trinian's), does a fine job as a frustrated but well-intentioned nice guy hero. There's no doubt Ann will soon forget her condescending BBC news-reading fiancé, Reginald Willoughby-Cruft , and will become Mrs. Blake before too long. Cole, incidentally, was taken in by Sim and his wife as a teen-ager and became the boy's foster parents. Sim, of course, is incomparable, a star character actor who was unique. There are many satisfyingly funny scenes in this movie, not all of them involving Sim, but he is what makes the movie work. And finally, let's hear it for Raymond Huntley. He almost always was cast as an irritable, irascible, condescending, sometimes clever, sometimes dense civil servant, general, lawyer, businessman or spy. With scarcely changing his tone in delivering a line, he could be immensely unlikable or quite funny. As Sir Gregory, his comments on British cooking, when his companion orders Chopped Toad for dinner (a variation, I assume, on Toad in the Hole), are immaculately delivered. Huntley as Sir Gregory immediately makes us root for Sim the assassin.