Alastair Sim’s School for Laughter: 4 Classic Comedies [Blu-Ray]

Like many movie lovers, you mainly associate Alastair Sim with his iconic portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1951 masterpiece “A Christmas Carol.” His take on Scrooge remains one of the most celebrated and imitated to this day. But Alastair Sim also had a very seasoned career in various film roles that challenged the performer, and the cinema curators at Film Movement have made his other under seen, otherwise under appreciated performances from the period of 1947 and 1960 available for purchase.

Based on the hit comics from cartoonist Ronald Searle, “The Girls and Staff of St Trinian’s” appear on film for the first time in “The Belles of St. Trinians.” The school is bankrupt (as is the usual) but an Arab sheik sends Princess Fatima, his daughter, with 100 pounds pocket money to the prestigious finishing School for Young Ladies. The Princess has a secret mission as informant to her father, because horse betting, and crime associated with it, is rampant. The famous schoolgirls battle against the headmistress Millicent, and many others Clarence Fitton, her bookie brother, the local Barchester police, and the Ministry of Education’s inspector – after two other school inspectors disappeared without trace.

“The Belles of St. Trinians” is a fun mad cap comedy with some really funny bits mixed in to the great ensemble as well as some very verbose comedy. Sims is very good in the role that caps a very good set. Included is an eighteen minutes interview with Geoff Brown with the historian giving background on the production and players. There’s a twelve minutes interview with Melanie Williams, Senior Lecturer in Film Studies, UEA. There’s a five minute interview with Merlith Mckendrick, Alastair Sim’s daughter, who reminisces about her father. There’s an eleven minutes interview with Steve CHibnall, Professor of British Cinema at De Montfort University, who offers more assessments about the film, and The Girls of St. Trinian’s, a seventeen minute set of interviews with some of the now elderly women who played the young girls in the film.

Re-imagined as a dark comedy in 2006, Alastair Sim’s classic comedy is based on 1947’s “Starting with The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship: Or the Art of Winning Games Without Actually Cheating” centers on a hapless individual named Henry Palfrey (Ian Carmichael) who decides to use what might be called “life coaching” in modern parlance offered by a teacher not so coincidentally named Potter (Alastair Sim). “School for Scoundrels” is very much a funny albeit clever commentary on social class systems within British society, and becomes something of a war of classes within a great comedy. While it isn’t Sims’ film entirely, it’s worth watching because it’s considered a classic. The disc comes with the original School for Scoundrels Trailer, a fourteen minutes Interview with Peter Bradshaw, the film critic of The Guardian, who offers some background and assessment from the film.

There’s an eleven minute interview with Terry Thomas’ biographer Graham McCann, and finally a great Interview with Chris Potter, grandson of Stephen Potter. In “Laughter in Paradise,” infamous practical joker Henry Russell (the great Hugh Griffith), dies during a prank as the film opens, and four of his relatives are gathered for the reading of his will, which is handled by the older Endicott. Prepared by an older man named Endicott (the equally great Ernest Thesiger). Those hoping to win his money includes Deniston Russell (Alastair Sim), a retired army officer who secretly makes a living writing “penny dreadfuls”; Agnes Russell (Fay Compton), an older woman who abuses her servants; Herbert Russell (George Cole), a bank teller and Simon Russell (Guy Middleton), a player type. While the will discloses that each of the relatives is due the immense sum of 50,000 pounds, they each need to complete a task assigned them by the late Henry before they can collect their riches.

The big catch however is that Henry’s “assignments” all approach every contestant with what Henry considers as flaws in each person’s character. This allows for a fun and pretty funny ensemble comedy with Sim as one of the players, struggling to over come personal failings for the purpose of obtaining the cash. Shocking enough, “Laughter in Paradise” gets no extras for fans of the film. Finally, known for being one of the very first “ealing comedies” that explored main characters with gray, ambiguous moral tones and motivations, “Hue and Cry” is a good addition to the set. Centered on a boy named Joe Kirby (Harry Fowler) who figures out that the Trump boys gang comics he loved as a child are being used as a messenger service of sorts to dole out orders to a bunch of thieves. When he and his young gang of boys seek to stop the crime ring, they meet the comics’ writer (Alastair Sim in a small role) and try to thwart the criminals.

It’s a pretty solid meta comedy with ideas about fiction and reality colliding and I’d recommend it even if it’s not a madcap comedy per se. The features for “Hue and Cry” includes a six minutes Interview with Steve Chibnall, the production from the Professor of British Cinema at De Monfort University, who offers some background on the film. Finally, there’s a nine minutes Location Featurette, featuring film historian Richard Dacre as a tour guide of various locations utilized in the film. For physical features, there’s an insert booklet that comes with Alastair Sim’s School for Laughter: 4 Classic Comedies includes an essay about all four films included.