Basil Dearden and Will Hay (director)
15 May 2017 (released)
15 May 2017
This 1942 WW2 farce was British comedian Will Hay's penultimate film. It was directed by the man himself and by the great Basil Dearden, who needs no further introduction. The slapstick comedy also features a very young Peter Ustinov.
In a case of mistaken identity, useless schoolmaster William Potts (W. Hay) is arrested by British Intelligence thinking that he is a German spy called Herr Müller. Of course, the fact that both Potts and Müller’s face resemble a ‘half baked Schnitzel’ comes in handy as it is only too obvious that Potts could be Müller’s twin, which gives the Intelligence agents some ideas…
Thus Potts is recruited by the Secret Service and is parachuted into Nazi Germany to take Müller’s place. The plan is to infiltrate a university in order to find out about a new secret weapon (a gasfire bomb) which is being tested. Chaos ensues the minute Potts arrives at the town’s train station, for the frenetic and bumbling spy almost misses his contact at the station and thinks the grand reception is for him and not for the high ranking Nazi officer in the next carriage… and nearly gets trampled underfoot. His ‘undercover job’ at the university is to teach young German students the English vernacular in order that they can come to England as spies and pass as Brits. Well...if Potts can pass for a German (actually Hay himself was fluent in German). The first session between teacher and students leads to some amusing word play on the pronunciation of English words like Sluff (meaning Slough) and touw (meaning tough). Impossible! Despite being the penultimate moron, Master Potts still manages to deceive all of those dopey ‘Krauts’ and steal one of the new bombs from the lab in another hilarious slapstick scene, after asking one of his cleverer students (Peter Ustinov) how he would go about breaking into the factory. Later, and after Potts managed to drink himself into a stupor, it transpires that three of his students are in fact Austrian and actually hate the Nazis, meaning they are Brit sympathisers. They are only too willing to help Potts in his mission after he confesses his real reasons for being at the university…
After first fooling a number of high ranking officers on a train with his 'brilliant' skills as a highly tactical person as to the right way to invade Britain, he then knocks them out of action with the aid of his three Austrian comrades/students. Now Master Potts and his three students are masquerading as high ranking Nazi-officers are on a private plane back to Britain, however, you will be glad to know that said aircraft, after a thrilling 8-minute or so climax high in the sky, ends up crashing into a tree just outside the Foreign Office in Whitehall where Master Potts was enlisted… all four passengers unharmed.
This film was obviously made as a morale booster and Hay, like draught Guinness, is an acquired taste. As a vintage gem this will be of interest only to a certain generation of viewers (should they still be alive!). Hay was in the 30's and early 40's something like a British comedy institution though his films failed to take off in the U.S. thanks to his deliberately bumbling persona which clearly failed to strike a chord with the Yanks. This is not to undermine the man's talent for Hay had a style 'all of his own'. This fully uncut 75th Anniversary Edition comes in a brand new restoration and with Bonus Features including the W. Hay short film ‘Go to Blazes’.