UK / 77 minutes / bw / Grenadier, British Lion Dir: Robert Day Pr & Scr: Frank Launder, Sidney Gilliat Story: Meet A Body (1954 play) by Frank Launder, Sidney Gilliat Cine: Gerald Gibbs Cast: Alastair Sim, George Cole, Terry-Thomas, Jill Adams, Raymond Huntley, Colin Gordon, Avril Angers, John Chandos, Eileen Moore, Arthur Brough, Dora Bryan, Richard Wattis, Alexander Gauge, Cyril Chamberlain, Vivien Wood, Marie Burke, Lucy Griffiths, Michael Ripper, Doris Yorke, Terence Alexander.
By no stretch of the imagination is this a film noir; rather, it belongs to the same stream of UK crime comedies whose best-known representatives include Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The LADYKILLERS (1955) and School for Scoundrels (1960). It has, too, many of the characteristics of a Whitehall farce, with the same fine timing, mockery of pretensions, and expert manipulation of misunderstandings, especially of an amorous nature.
The glorious piano trio make amorous eyes at the gentlemanly knave Hawkins.
Outwardly respectable Hawkins (Sim)—although he uses other aliases—discovered the art of murder-by-bomb while he was still in preparatory school at Embrook House, whose loathed headmaster he took out with an explosive fountain pen. Since then he has made his living as a paid assassin. His latest commission is from a Levantine group which wants him to make sure slimy plutocrat Sir Gregory Upshott (Huntley) doesn’t live long enough to start interfering in the Middle East.
Hawkins has oiled himself into the good graces of Upshott’s secretary, Marigold (Angers), with a promise of marriage, and discovers from her that Upshott has set up a dirty weekend with typist Joan Wood (Moore) at a coastal hotel called The Green Man. It is there that Hawkins plans to kill the financier with a rigged radio. However, on the Friday afternoon before that escapade, Marigold discovers that Hawkins was taking notes of Upshott’s plans, rightly suspects the worst, and insists on calling round to his Turnham Green house, Windybridge, to have things out. Her timing could hardly be more inconvenient for Hawkins, because he happens to be entertaining his cop friend Sergeant Bassett (Chamberlain) for their regular chess game.
Hawkins and his equally murderous sidekick, Angus McKechnie (Chandos), devise a scheme whereby, by swapping house nameplates, they can lure Marigold into the wrong house—the untenanted home next door, Appleby. (It would be nice to think this name was chosen as an homage to Michael Innes’s series detective.) There McKechnie hits the unfortunate woman over the head and stuffs what he assumes to be her corpse into the piano.
But Appleby is in fact occupied, although all its contents are still in boxes or under dustsheets. Ann Vincent (Adams) is readying the house for when she and her fiancé, the stuffy BBC radio announcer Reginald Willoughby-Cruft (Gordon), get married. Into the situation stumbles incompetent vacuum-cleaner salesman William Blake (Cole) . . . and so begins a comedy of errors that leads from Turnham Green to The Green Man itself, where morals are noteworthy by their absence, the food is unspeakable, and a most enthusiastic, alcohol-loving piano trio (Wood, Burke, Griffiths) holds sway.
The great radio switcheroo.
The cast is more or less a roll call of UK comedy regulars of the era, with stalwarts like Dora Bryan, in a supporting role as The Green Man’s flirty barmaid/receptionist Lily, and Terry-Thomas, in what is—despite his third billing—little more than a bit part as her leeringly adulterous paramour Charlie Boughtflower. Richard Wattis has an even smaller part as the doctor called to tend to Marigold after she’s discovered to have survived her knock on the head. The admirable Michael Ripper is The Green Man’s seemingly none-too-bright waiter; he beams approvingly as, to Upshott’s horror, Joan chooses from the dinner menu an item called Chop Toad. (The dish exists, too, I found out. It’s a variant of the traditional sausages-in-batter Toad in the Hole done using chops rather than sausages.)
Moore and Cole were at the time married; they divorced in 1962.