Henry Cass (director)
Studiocanal UK (studio)
101min approx (length)
09 March 2020 (released)
12 March 2020
A thoroughly charming if somewhat sad little gem of a film which gives us a near classic performance from its leading actor Alec Guinness. Indeed, the part of the tragic George Bird could easily have been written with Guinness in mind. The first rate screenplay has also been co-produced by the 'people's playwright' J.B. Priestley (these days probably best known for 'An Inspector Calls').
Our protagonist George Bird (A. Guinness), a humble salesman, visits his GP and is informed he has a 'new' and ultimately fatal illness called, no, not Corona but Lampington's Disease… meaning he has possibly three to six weeks left to live at most. As the not exactly terribly old George says to his Doc “It's a bit thick isn't it”.
His doctor advises him to make the most of the time George has left and perhaps take a long holiday. Following the advice, George promptly books himself into an upmarket hotel in the fictitious coastal town of Pinebourne (Torquay in actuality) for an indefinite period (what does it matter). After leaving the surgery an empty and horse-drawn hearse passes him by and a begging blind tramp-like solitary violinist (David McCallum Sr.) plays an elegiac recurring motif. In the street he is accosted by a little second-hand clothes shop owner (Meier Tzelniker doing his Jewish bit) who has the entire wardrobe of a recently deceased Earl, which just happens to fit George perfectly… and voila, he acquires the clobber for £65 (a proud sum for the time). Resigning from his mundane job his desperate employer offers to more than double George’s £300 p.a. salary. Of course, George declines without stating the full reason.
When he arrives at the large and rather posh looking hotel (and who can blame him for this little bit of extravagance?) he is mistaken for an aristo thanks to his splendid wardrobe. He is initially seen by the other guests (most of whom appear to be long term residents) as a bit of a mystery man… which is hardly surprising. He soon befriends the stolid down to earth manageress Mrs. Poole (Kay Walsh, who a couple of years before had been ‘Nancy’ to Guinness’ ‘Fagin’ in Oliver Twist). Soon there is a whiff of romance in the air (a rare occurrence in George's dull life). Pretty soon George is a major hit with practically all the other guests too. He has the knowledge that his new found ‘status’ emboldened him to walk where he would never have gone before, to be more assertive and gain a special wisdom that only someone in this position could gain. He wins a huge amount of money on a horse race with successful businessman Joe Clarence (Sidney James), who soon takes a great liking to him and wants him as his business partner. He advises a political bigwig on a new course of action and is offered a job on the board of directors. Furthermore he wins a huge amount of money playing cards. In short, never before has life treated our George so well but of course, none of this means anything him.
As time runs out, George not only becomes ever more popular but also more generous! He promptly gives a hundred pounds to Sheila Rockingham (Beatrice Campbell) with whom he formed an affinity to help her and her fickle husband Derek (Brian Worth) whose been 'fronting" for shady types and got himself into trouble because of it. In fact, everything George touches seems to go so very, very right but....
Now would you believe it, a new guest turns up at the hotel of ALL the hotels in the country and this man is none other than Sir Trevor Lampington himself (the irrepressibly ‘flared-nostrils’ Ernest Thesiger), after whose discovery the apparently terminal illness had been named. Meanwhile all the hotel staff have gone on strike and George suggests the guests do all the cooking and chores themselves, which they all buckle down to very well (thus a solitary but practical Socialist element is introduced). While washing up the dishes George announces why he is behaving the way he is. Sir Trevor, as the discoverer of the disease, immediately informs George that he is assuredly wrong and that he cannot possible have Lampington’s Disease! It would not be fair to reveal the 'twist' ending but the violin motif may give you clue…
This b/w gem from 1950 is a film that you will remember and is arguably director Henry Cass's best. Thanks to its new restoration, it will look even better than ever before.