Caught an old black and white film on the BBC this weekend that I hadn’t seen before – the 1960 comedy “School For Scoundrels” which was directed by Robert Hamer (“Kind Hearts And Coronets”).
The film was based on the humorous 1947 book “The Theory And Practice Of Gamesmanship : The Art Of Winning Games Without Actually Cheating”, showing how poor players would be able to beat better ones through the use of subtle psychological ploys. It was the first of a series of such books written by Stephen Potter, and seems to have given the term “gamesmanship” to the world at large.
In the film, which in its innocence and gentleness is more in tune with British comedies of the 1950s than would become the norm in the 1960s, we find nice guy Henry Palfrey (Ian Carmichael – “The Lady Vanishes”, “From Beyond The Grave”) having a hard time.
Palfrey isn’t a natural winner in life or love. In business, he runs a business that he has inherited from his uncle but is dominated by one of his employees, long-serving clerk Gloatbridge (Edward Chapman – “A Stitch In Time”, “The Bulldog Breed”).
In love he struggles to impress April Smith (Janette Scott – “The Day Of The Triffids”, “Paranoiac”) and finds himself being overshadowed by a fellow member of his tennis club Raymond Delauney (Terry-Thomas – “The Abominable Dr. Phibes”, “Danger : Diabolik”) with his smooth ways and fancy sports car.
Attempting to compete with Delauney, Palfrey finds himself taken for a ride by car salesmen Dunstan (Dennis Price – “Twins Of Evil”, “What A Carve Up!”) and Dudley (Peter Jones – “Carry On England”, “Blue Murder At St. Trinian’s”).
Thoroughly fed up, Palfrey enrols at the College of Lifemanship in Yeovil, run by Dr. Potter (Alastair Sim – “The Belles Of St. Trinian’s”, “The Green Man”). Potter aims to help his students become winners instead of losers, and to that aim runs classes in, amongst other such things, “Partymanship”, “Woomanship” and “Gamesmanship”.
Palfrey passes his course with flying colours and then, with Potter acting as his mentor, sets out to redress the balance in his favour with those at whose hands he suffered in the earlier exchanges – leading ultimately to using his new skills in “woomanship” on April.
Will Delauney be defeated? Will April succumb to Palfrey’s new-found techniques?…
I thought this was a great comedy film. There’s little of the innuendo of the original “St. Trinian’s” series and none of the so-called smut to be found in the “Carry On…” series (both of which are series of which I have great affection).
I also loved the end where Potter breaks the fourth wall to address to viewer directly – and implores the orchestra to “cease that fearful din!”.
The characters are, by and large, stereotypes, and arguably the film is rooted in an era when women were perhaps not allowed, or certainly not expected, to express much of an opinion and were something to be fought over by men and would meekly go along with the outcome – but ultimately it’s a funny and entertaining film and very watchable…