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Monday, 12 August 2013

Classic Film Review: School for Scoundrels (1960)

School for Scoundrels stars Ian Carmichael as Henry Palfrey, one of life's losers. After his friend, Raymond Delauney (Terry-Thomas), tries to steal his potential girlfriend, April (Janette Scott) from under his nose, he decides something must be done. He comes across the Lifeman college which purports to show men how to be in a constant state of 'one-up' over whoever he wants to be. The college is run by Mr Potter (Alastair Sim), who takes a great interest in Henry. When it's time for Henry to move into 'field work' it is Potter who accompanies him.

This is a very British film populated by very British characters. It also includes some traditional British symbols: tennis courts, dodging car dealing and the elitism of restaurants. It utilises these traditions to create an environment hostile to Henry in the first half of the film but one that he can manipulate in the second. As a comedy, then, it works, and, fortunately, Henry's character evolves so much to have become not only strong by the finale but also able to step back and look at what he's learned.

Carmichael puts in a good performance but, really, Terry-Thomas and Alastair Sim steal the show. Initially pompous and self-confident, Delauney has to face a resurgent Henry in the second half of the film and Terry-Thomas portrays this wonderfully, from the car prang down to the tennis court. Equally, Mr Potter portrays his suave character perfectly. Special mention must go to the used car salesmen played by Dennis Price and Peter Jones who are a delight to watch, both when they're swindling and when they're the ones being swindled.

With small appearances from Hattie Jacques, Hugh Paddick and John Le Mesurier, this film surpassed my expectations and proved very enjoyable. I thought the preamble before Henry's initiation into 'college' life was a little too long but it was necessary to set everything up for later. Perfect balance of set ups and pay offs make School for Scoundrels a very good British comedy.

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