Retro: our movie & TV vault... a fresh look
at neglected classics and cult favourites
Ian Carmichael with vicar's teeth, and the angelic Irene Handl as wife of dead-beat Eric Sykes in one
of his rare, prominent movie roles (see him excel in The Liquidator, 1965), accompanied by
1960s' British character actors arranged randomly, as if in a box of top-notch chocolates you just
can't wait to eat!
Peter sellers underplays Reverend Smallwood, in what can be seen as a biting satire on the then attitudes of comfortable, 'Christian' middle-class villagers, towards those less fortunate. A gypsy family is evicted from the field owned by bastard landowner William Hartnell, and 'mistaken identity' vicar Sellers takes them in, showing true humanitarian action. Simultaneously, Lady of the Manor, majority shareholder in the company that keeps the village afloat, decides to buy her way into heaven by selling her shares to feed the locals for free. And such locals! I spotted Cardew Robinson, Joan Hickson and Miriam Karlin, and anyone who thought Chris Barrie was good but miscast as butler to Lara Croft in Tomb Raider would have seen the real McCoy in Bernard Miles, the only thing missing was the identifying fart.
This was, I remember, hilarious when released, but has undeniably dated. It is now most useful as a beautiful memento of the lost world that was mid-century England. Peter Sellers eating the dog's biscuits has been done a few times since I am sure, but never bettered.
The Boulting brothers had bigger hits, which are shown more frequently: Carlton Browne Of The F.O., The Family Way etc., and this, though a good film, is not a classic. The most grating aspect, regrettably quite common in the 1960s, is the dubbing with girls' voices of all the kids', male and female. Call to mind that awful advertisement for insurance with the six-month-old child speaking like Brian Sewell. Perhaps the real voices were too regional or uncultured and the netball team just happened to be standing close by?
The world was black and white in those days, not just the movies, and though we have lost a lot along the way, we have occasionally gained a depth which early British comedy rarely achieved. Elstree movies were finished by then - the New Wave had not arrived, and Heaven's Above, while worthy and amusing, is little more than one of the richly decorated connecting links between these two interesting eras of moviemaking.