23 June 2003 | heebie_jeebies
A highly enjoyable film with a clever script
The film begins in post war Germany, where John Mills demonstrates his talent for comedy characters in his role as Clifford Southey, a pompous, insecure caricature of a British Colonel, whose regiment is agitated by the arrival of a former business acquaintance, Captain Brett Aimsley. Aimsley, a charming rogue who's been selling stolen goods on the black market, throws Southey's over-regimented regiment into chaos by holding noisy gatherings involving gambling and lewd jokes - it's quite astonishing to hear the quintessential gentleman Mason's gag about the Frenchman who found happiness! The newcomer's gatherings have destroyed Southey's friendly games of bridge, by stealing away all but the most dedicated bridge players, and understandably, he's not standing for it. He calls Aimsley to his office with the intention of setting him straight, but Aimsley's charm wins him over and the pusillanimous Colonel lets his former friend off the hook, only to rat on him for his black market deals while he's on leave in London. Some years later, Aimsley has moved to Tahiti to escape his court martial. Coincidentally, Southey, who is now the director of a chain of hotels, comes to town to try to stitch up a deal for a new hotel.
Even though there are few laugh-out-loud jokes in this film, its strength lies in the fact that it is consistently entertaining, partly because of the topsy-turvy relationship between Southey and Aimsley, and also because of the constant deflating of Southey's ego. For example, just as Southey was making progress impressing two female tourists with his encyclopedic knowledge of wine, Aimsley arrives and takes away the bottle Southey has just analysed and praised, then says "We can do better than that in Tahiti. I'll get you something drinkable."
Mills' performance is quite hilarious - he creates one of those absurd characters that needs only to walk into a room for one to start laughing. The funniest scenes in the film involve Southey - who is alone apart from us - rehearsing how he is going to confront Aimsley. Despite his basically good moral character, he's one of those characters we love to hate because of his pomposity and his many unreasonable assumptions about Aimsley.
Mason was the perfect choice to play Aimsley, the charming, likable scoundrel. We remain on his side throughout the film because his charm wins us over, just as it won over Southey early in the film. There are adequate performances from Rosenda Monteros as Aimsley's love interest, the charming and flirty Belle and from Herbert Lom as Chong, the hilarious and politically incorrect caricature of a Chinese shopkeeper.
It is the characters that make this film, but the script is equally strong, save for the redundant sub-plot involving an American sailor who tries to steal Belle away from Aimsley. A dramatic twist towards the end of the film adds to what is a mostly engrossing story. We are left wondering until the end whether Southey will ever finally confront Aimsley, or whether the two will return to being friends, as well as whether or not Southey will get his hotel built. A highly enjoyable film with an excellent cast and a clever script.