Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
Alternate Title: I Like Money
United Kingdom, 1961. Dimitri De Grunwald Production. Screenplay by Pierre Rouve, based on the play by Marcel Pagnol. Cinematography by John Wilcox. Produced by Pierre Rouve. Music by Georges Van Parys. Production Design by Donald M. Ashton. Costume Design by Pierre Balmain, Anthony Mendleson. Film Editing by Geoffrey Foot.
Peter Sellers adapts the play by Marcel Pagnol after versions made in Hollywood and France, starring and for the first and only time directing as well. He plays a mild-mannered teacher who can only understand his work through his sense of integrity, and when local aristocrat Martita Hunt comes and demands that he pass her academically underperforming nephew in his class, he refuses. He is summarily fired by the school’s headmaster Leo McKern, saved from penury by a friend whose nephew was also his student, a music hall performer (played by Nadia Gray) who introduces him to her city councilor boyfriend (future Pink Panther co-star Herbert Lom). Lom is looking to hire someone to run a company he is setting up, which Sellers doesn’t know is a front for his own shady manipulating of tax dollars for his personal profit. Sellers plays the unwitting fall guy for a good amount of time until reality comes knocking on his door and he awakens to the situation he is in; when he does, he finds he has a knack for the kind of corruption that has been played on him and, in a very literary ironic twist, beats his mischievous friends at their own game. Pagnol’s world-weary cynicism isn’t in the least bit subtle, the honest man is punished and the corrupt one succeeds, but the charm of his characters prevents it feeling like a civics lesson and Sellers, adapting it beautifully to the English language, casts all roles with expertise. He himself gives a touching, surprisingly subtle performance as a man whose devastating coming-of-moral-age is subtly expressed in the breaking of his optimistic gaze, and he surrounds his brittle performance with a vibrant cast of actors who paint bright colours around him. The plotting is uneven, the first act feels more sluggish than the rest and the film takes a while to get into gear, but none of its flaws justify the poor reception that greeted it when originally released. Sellers, who was always volatile about any kind of feedback, removed the film from circulation and it has rarely seen the light of day since, thankfully available again via a restoration project by the British Film Institute.