Last month’s Film Club was a week late because of Easter, so the next is upon us already! Next week’s Classic Film (May 3rd) is a much loved – but sadly almost forgotten – British (farcical) crime movie, which opens with these lines:-
“Ah! School days. The happiest days of one’s life. I was a carefree innocent lad in those far gone times. Only one thing clouded my youthful spirits: my headmaster. Really, all I did was to put an electric charge in his fountain pen and an explosive charge in his inkpot. I honestly only intended to humiliate him. However, that … disposed of any doubts I may have had about my true vocation.”
The voice-over of The Green Man is not unlike that which guides us through Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949); that is to say, it is the voice of a murderer. But one whom (perhaps more-so than in Kind Hearts) it is difficult not to like. In fact, we’re expected not only to sympathize with the protagonist Harry Hawkins, a professional assassin, but to cheer him on, for his crusade to rid the world of pompous frauds – be they headmasters, dictators or politicians – seems entirely reasonable (especially during an election, as we are as I write this blog!). Indeed it increasingly seems a noble and elegant pastime, the way Sim plays it!
Harry Hawkins (Alastair Sim), a freelance assassin, is to plant a bomb in a country hotel (The Green Man of the title) to blow up Sir Gregory Upshott (geddit?), for no other reason, it seems, than that he is a pompous ass (as I said, entirely reasonable). Thanks to a duplicitous relationship with Marigold, the minister’s secretary (right), who he has tricked into revealing diary details, Hawkins has found out when Upshott will be staying at the hotel with a young woman from the typing pool (i.e. not his wife).
His plans are accidentally uncovered, however, because of a stray carbon on Marigold’s desk and a vacuum cleaner salesman, William Blake (George Cole), who inconveniently calls at the wrong house (i.e. next door to Hawkins’) during an attempted murder and whose frequent attempts to demonstrate hi-tech gadgetry of “The Little Wizard of the Carpet” are wasted on people who clearly have not yet learned to worship at the shrine of consumerism (though this may also be because the body has had to be hidden rather quickly when he knocked at the door), but who also has a habit of being caught in compromising situations (that are entirely and very innocently accidental) with a scantily-clad but spoken-for woman amid the dust-sheet-covered furniture (left) of the house that has been recently purchased by Ann Vincent (Jill Adams) and Reginald Willoughby-Cruft (Colin Gordon), the stuffy BBC news announcer to whom she is engaged (‘By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you, if I didn’t have to read the nine o’clock news’), and who discovers Blake first under the bed with his fiancé and then entangled on the floor wearing only lingerie (Ann, that is, not Blake), since Blake is convinced (as is Ann, later) that there is a body in the house (though they have not yet found it), until Marigold and a friendly policeman … er …
Perhaps you’d better just come to the screening!
It is perhaps thanks to (seriously unfunny) terrorism that this kind of comedy is no longer possible and that the British art of making black farce has been completely lost. The Green Man moves at a cracking pace, with a supporting cast that includes Terry Thomas as Charles Boughtflower, a Lothario who is mistaken by Blake and Ann (right) for Sir Upshott – played by Raymond Huntley who seemed to specialize in such characters. And then there are bit parts for Dora Bryan and a slim, young Arthur Lowe (Don’t tell him, Pike!).
Sim was originally going to direct the film, but eventually handed over to Robert Day, a former camera operator making his debut with the un-credited supervision of the more experienced Basil Dearden. Day’s subsequent contributions to British comedy include The Rebel and Two-Way Stretch (both 1960), after which he worked almost exclusively in the US.
Based on the play Meet a Body by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, (who produced and adapted this big-screen version), the film garnered fine reviews and a classic notoriety by targeting both bourgeois complacency (those house names that get changed – and confused – so easily!) and establishment hypocrisy.
The film was remade in Germany as Vor Nachbarn wird gewarnt (1965) (TV Movie) and in France as Au theatre ce soir; Cherchez le corps, Mister Blake (1971) (TV Episode)