10 January 2006 | miloc
Benchmark British satire
Along with Alexander Mackendrick's "The Man in the White Suit," this is THE great satire of management-labor relations: less allegorical and more cheerfully crass. In a way this movie seems like a sort of crossroads in British comedy, poised between the warmer eccentricities of the Ealing films and and the screw-'em-all pop irreverence of the rising New Wave.
These days the film seems to be primarily remembered for Peter Sellers' magnificent caricature of socialist sanctimony, Fred Kite, but the whole gallery of players, many reprising roles from the earlier "Private's Progress," is excellent. Carmichael, all inane, wild-eyed grins, is Woosterish as ever as the brainless but well-intentioned Windrush. Terry-Thomas produces a very funny sketch of middle-class middle management. It's a perfect picture of lazy hypocrisy: the man who settles into a do-nothing job, knowing exactly how awful it is but not caring so long as he gets through the day. He had a face made for contempt; watching his mustache curl as he reads an entry in the workers' suggestion box ("Filthy beast," he mutters, as he tucks it away in a pocket) or as he picks his way through the rubbish of Kite's wifeless home is a joy. Price and Attenborough are, as always, first-class rotters, the iciest of the moneyed class, and Handl, Le Mesurier and Rutherford add vividly funny moments. As the war over Windrush expands from workplace to societal to domestic spheres, watching the various characters bounce and interact provides some of the movie's best-observed moments, such as the brief tea scene between Rutherford and Handl, who, though inhabiting utterly different worlds, seem to interact perfectly in mutual obliviousness.
And there is Sellers, of course, pitch-perfect whether marching around the factory like the lead float in a parade or rhapsodizing about Russia or going hilariously blank on live television. It's memorable work that might overbalance the movie's double-edged attack if it weren't human enough to be sympathetic as well.
All in all, silly, clever, raucous fun.