Director: Mario Zampi
Script: Jack Davies & Michael Pertwee
Cast: Alastair Sim, George Cole, Fay Compton, Guy Middleton, Beatrice Campbell, Joyce Grenfell, Ernest Thesiger, Mackenzie Ward, Audrey Hepburn, Veronica Hurst
Running time: 97 minutes
Laughter in Paradise is a black comedy from the early fifties, was shot at Ealing Studios and includes a veritable who’s who of British comedy from that time, including the likes of Alastair Sim, George Cole, Joyce Grenfell and Mackenzie Ward.
The story is a simple, but quite genius one, whereby relatives of famed practical joker Henry Russell are summoned to hear his last will and testament. The four of them discover that their now deceased relative has left them each £50,000, although there are caveats to them receiving the money. During the month following the reading snobby Agnes (Compton) must find employment as a housekeeper in a middle-class home and retain her position there for the whole month; timid Herbert (Cole), who works in a bank as a lowly clerk, must hold up his intimidating bank manager with a water pistol; Simon (Middleton), a womanising rogue and chancer, must marry the first single woman he speaks to; and Deniston (Sim), who is secretly a pulp fiction writer of mostly crime novels, must get himself arrested and imprisoned for not more and not less than 28 days. Failure to succeed in their tasks means they forfeit their inheritance.
Firstly, I have to say that I preferred this to The Green Man that I recently reviewed for Blueprint – I thought the plot of Laughter in Paradise was a more arresting one that works much more satisfactorily than The Green Man’s. Plus, there was more of an array of quirky, interesting characters in this film, and the film’s success wasn’t all placed on Sim’s broad shoulders this time around. In addition to the four main leads there’s a nice group of supporting actors who add to the fun; I especially enjoyed Ernest Thesiger’s performance as the wily and humorous Endicott, who reads the will and delivers the final twist in the tale. Sadly Audrey Hepburn only has a couple of brief cameos as a cigarette girl.
As Stephen Fry says in the extras, Laughter in Paradise has much in common with the portmanteau films that became popular later on, where a number of stories are interlinked with an over-arching tale holding them all together. Dead of Night is Ealing’s other example of this sort of narrative construct.
While much of the humour is somewhat twee and light for today’s audiences there is still much to tickle the funny bone, with some excellent physical comedy on display here by the likes of Sim and Cole. Director Zampi does the right thing and lets his actors ‘play’ with the material and that has clearly paid dividends.
The locations and sets really add to the quintessential English charm of that period of filmmaking, and it was great to see some vintage cars being used in their prime! Sadly, there’s some dodgy back-projection on display, but one can forgive that due to the rather antiquated techniques they were using at the time.
Laughter in Paradise is a pretty daft sort of film when you really think about it, but is nevertheless most enjoyable and is nicely presented here by Studiocanal, who’ve done an excellent job of sprucing up the print and restoring another British comedy classic back to its former glory.
Studiocanal is distributing Laughter in Paradise on DVD, Blu-ray and on Digital on 29th June. This newly restored version of the film is being released as part of their Vintage Classic Collection.
There are a number of extras included on the disc including:
Alastair Sim and Laughter in Paradise by Stephen Fry (22.5 mins) – The gregarious polymath Stephen Fry talks about one of his favourite actors, Alastair Sim, at length and explains why he thinks Sim’s story in the film is the strongest one. He compares watching Alastair Sim act like “bathing in a bath of bliss”!
Ministry of information short – Nero: Save Fuel (1.46 mins) – Amusing public information film featuring both Alastair Sim and George Cole.
Alistair Sim’s Edinburgh University Rector’s Speech (41 mins) – An audio-only curio, dating from 1949, when Sim gave a speech at what sounds to be a graduation dinner for Edinburgh University students. The sound quality is a bit ropey, especially early on, but it improves later. The students seem to find much of what Sim says unfeasibly funny for some reason – they’re probably very drunk I suspect!
Behind the scenes gallery – 10 shots from the film; mostly setting up shots.