Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
United Kingdom, 1959. Charter Film Productions, Boulting Brothers. Screenplay by Frank Harvey, John Boulting, with Alan Hackney, based on his novel. Cinematography by Mutz Greenbaum. Produced by Ray Boulting. Music by Ken Hare. Production Design by William C. Andrews. Costume Design by John McCorry. Film Editing by Anthony Harvey. National Board of Review Awards 1960.
The post-war nationalization of major British industries isn’t the socialist paradise that we have been lead to believe it is, according to this sharp and witty adaptation of the novel by Alan Hackney. Graduating from Oxford with training in upper management (as is standard for his class), naive and friendly toff Ian Carmichael does the rounds at various companies and strikes out, eventually settling for working the floor at his uncle’s nuclear missile factory. At first the other grunts on the loading dock think he’s an undercover time-study man, spying for the boss to see how much work can be done in an allotted amount of time (if management finds out they can do more, they’ll be forced to actually do more). Once realizing that he’s on the level (if a bit more posh, wearing a tie underneath his overalls), his co-workers show Carmichael the ropes and his union representative (34 year-old Peter Sellers under makeup as a middle-aged husband and father) offers him a room to rent in his home. Carmichael falls in love with Sellers’ dolly bird of a daughter (Liz Fraser), then gets himself into real trouble when he mistakes management’s actual spy for a co-worker and shows him just how efficient the boys can be. This leads to a strike that then sets off a series of them around the country, creating a national turmoil that awakens Carmichael to a bitter awareness of a world in which there are only different types of selfishness without any good guys in the fight. Its unforgiving cynicism didn’t prevent the film being popular with British audiences, particularly thanks to rich characterizations brought to life by a host of brilliant actors. Sellers, who won a BAFTA for his performance, brings something grounded to his role’s frustrated ambivalence (a believer in Communist Russia who can’t actually take care of himself when his wife and daughter leave him), while Margaret Rutherford has a terrific supporting role as Carmichael’s aristocratic aunt, who delivers one of the film’s sharpest scenes: in her meeting with Sellers’ wife (a superb Irene Handl), we see that women find agreement quickly without the need to slot each other into various class-based roles.