Director: John Boulting
Screenplay: Frank Harvey, John Boulting, Alan Hackney
Based on a Novel by: Alan Hackney
Starring: Ian Carmichael, Terry-Thomas, Peter Sellers, Richard Attenborough, Dennis Price
Producer: Roy Boulting
Running Time: 105 min
BBFC Certificate: U
The Boulting Brothers John and Roy worked together as producer and director (often alternating the roles from film to film) to great success in their home country, the UK. 1947’s Brighton Rock may be their most famous film nowadays, but they made a name for themselves in the 50’s and 60’s with a series of satirical comedies. Perhaps the most critically successful of these, winning two BAFTA’s, was 1959’s I’m All Right Jack. Studio Canal have deemed it worthy of a sparkly new Blu-Ray release in the UK so I thought I’d check it out to see what the fuss was about.
Stanley Windrush (Ian Carmichael) is the centrepiece of this satire of working ‘modern’ Britain, which pokes fun at the trade unions in particular. Stanley’s a naïve young chap who’s finished at Oxford and wants to make a name for himself in industry. After failing miserably to secure a job by himself, he’s approached by his uncle Bertie (Dennis Price) and his old friend Sidney (Richard Attenborough). They offer him a low end manual labour position at his uncle’s missile factory so he can go in at the bottom and work his way up. Stanley’s lack of experience and desire to work more efficiently rubs his colleagues up the wrong way though and they report him to their union shop steward Fred Kite (Peter Sellers). Believing him to be a spy sent from the bosses to work out ways of getting them to work harder for the same pay, they try to get rid of him. However, Bertie and Sidney are in fact using Stanley for a secret plan, which falls perfectly in to place when he causes a strike at the factory. When surprise fame falls upon Stanley though, the strike spreads further, even sending Fred’s wife away from her ‘duties’, and chaos threatens to bring down the entire country.
I do enjoy a good satire, but often these can date over time. Thankfully for I’m All Right Jack, although the unions may not have the power they used to have, the general aim is at the British people themselves and their desire to have something for nothing and continue to look out for number one and no one else. This is something that is still prevalent and not just in the UK I imagine. The selfishness of man can never truly be shaken and this film tears into it as best it can. It isn’t subtle in doing so (the title alone eludes to it), but it’s certainly enjoyable to watch.
Supported by a great cast, including fairly subdued roles by Peter Sellers and Terry-Thomas as well as a slimily villainous turn from Richard Attenborough, this is a very solid example of late 50’s British comedy. The script is strong, with a well constructed story and some wickedly sharp lines throughout, as well as a little visual and physical comedy from time to time. It’s not as laugh out loud hilarious as perhaps it would have been in its day and some bawdy and sillier moments get in the way of the satire here and there (mainly near the beginning and in a little coda at the end), but it does hold up rather well.
It reminded me of some of the classic Ealing comedies that I know and love. I didn’t feel it quite hit their heights though. It’s not as tight or fun as something like The Man in the White Suit, but it’s a cleverly written dig at society as a whole which still has the power to question modern attitudes, even if it does so quite bluntly.
I’m All Right Jack is out on 19th January in the UK on Blu-Ray and DVD, released by Studio Canal. I watched the Blu-Ray version and the picture and sound quality was fantastic.
There are a fair few features too, although it’s quite an odd assortment. On top of the customary trailer, there’s an interview with Liz Frazer, which makes for an interesting watch, but she doesn’t have one of the major roles in the film (mind you, a lot of the stars are now dead). You also get a short film made by Sellers, Dick Lester and Spike Milligan called Running, Jumping and Standing Still. As much as I love those guys, I didn’t get into this incredibly bizarre little oddity. The best feature though is a selection of extracts from a British TV documentary about Peter Sellers, ‘Cinefile: Seller’s Best!’. Here Milligan and other contemporaries discuss how I’m All Right Jack was a bit of a change of pace for Sellers and how the film was one of the highlights of his career (he won one of the film’s 2 BAFTA’s). Running at 14 mins, it’s a nice addition to the package.