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LAUGHTER IN PARADISE (1951)

Laughter in Paradise - Cover'StudioCanal' have recently released a digitally enhanced version of the British classic, ‘Laughter in Paradise’. It was directed by Mario Zampi; it starred Alastair Sim, Fay Compton, Guy Middleton, and George Cole; and it lasts for 93-minutes. Plus, as an extra added bonus, the Blu-ray edition comes with a stills gallery, a short promotional film featuring Sim & Cole, an audio track highlighting Alastair's rectorial address at Edinburgh University (circa 1949), as well as a face-to-face interview with the comedian, Stephen Fry. Please enjoy.


Laughter in Paradise [Blu-ray]


THE STORY:
A few days ago, the late, great, Henry Augustus Russell (Hugh Griffith), tragically passed away from natural causes. So now, it’s up to me, his closest friend, to inform you, the last four remaining members of his family, what he decided to leave you all in his will. Money. Or to be more specific about it, fifty thousand pounds, each, but only if you can complete a specific task without telling anyone about your inheritance. 

So, Agnes (Fay Compton), as you’re Henry’s sister, you're required to gain employment as a housemaid without getting sacked for an entire month. Sacked, or dismissed, whichever comes first. Simon (Guy Middleton), on the other hand, your mission involves you doing something that you’ve never, ever, done before... marry the first woman you meet, regardless of her age, status, or appearance. And as for Herbert (George Cole) and Deniston (Alastair Sim)? Well, as for you two, Henry wants you both to commit a crime. Any crime, in your case, Deniston, just as long as you’re sent to prison for 28 whole days and refrain from writing those trashy novels you continually regurgitate. Whereas you, Herbert, your crime must involve you robbing the bank where you currently work in order to prevent your boss from pushing you around. Preferably, without getting caught.

So, now you all have your assignments, go on, jump to it! Otherwise, what next transpires might go, bang-slap-pow!, when a family finally clash. As a writer learns about trouble and strife - a scoundrel finds himself a brand new wife - a spinster confronts a fiend from Fife - and at the end of the day, please remember, a need for adventure comes with a bank clerk’s life. 




THE REVIEW:
If you managed to follow my silly summary, then you most probably know how much money was at stake for each of the main characters featured in this fairly funny film... £50,000. But out of curiosity, do you know how much that sum is actually worth in today’s money? (2020) Keeping in mind that it was made in 1951. Well, give or take a few quid, it’s approximately £1.5 million, or thereabouts, which in all fairness, does seem somewhat surprising. But then again, this is a somewhat surprising film, as it clearly chronicles four separate stories that are thematically linked together by one simple premise. That premise being, a group of colorful characters who try desperately to complete their respective ‘quests’ in order to inherit money tied up in a dead man’s will. Or in other words, your usual slice of old school silliness.

Laughter in Paradise - Alastair Sim
Having said that, though, ‘Laughter in Paradise’ is also a transitional film too. Transitional, in the way that it introduces us to four, flawed individuals who eventually confront their imperfections because of the challenges they are forced to face. For instance, when the tale begins, Agnes, the dead man’s sister, is shown as being a very mean, elderly lady who’s continually cruel to the hired help. But then, when she's coerced into a life of servitude due to her dead brother’s will, over time, she realizes the error of her ways and, blah-blah-blah, etc-etc-etc. Similarly, the rest of the cast were also taught ‘life lessons’ care of their respective ‘quests’. Although, in their case, Deniston (the cousin) was taught how to embrace his work and discard his fiancée, Herbert (the other cousin) was taught how to be brave and not be a pushover, and Simon (a.k.a. cousin number three) was taught that there's no honor amongst thieves, even himself. So, on a narrative level, I’d say there’s a fairly healthy message sewn into the very fabric of this film. A message that illustrates the value of confronting your own imperfections being far more rewarding than cold, hard, cash.

That said, however, this particular style of storytelling did come with one imperfection of its own devising. Structurally, there wasn’t an equal amount of ‘screen time’ shared amongst the four main tales, which in turn, seemed to affect the 'emotional intensity' for those tales with less time (Herbert and Simon) compared to those with more time (Deniston and Agnes) due to their lack of progression. Not drastically, mind you, and not comedically either, because this film is still a genuinely funny film full of pathos, broad humor, and good old-fashioned British silliness, even though there was an ‘emotional imbalance’ between the different slices of the story. What’s more, I wasn’t too keen on the so-called ‘lovers subplot’ either -- the one involving the daughter and the detective -- as it felt wedged into the main brunt of the narrative and slightly detracted from the central plot.


Laughter in Paradise - Ernest Thesiger, Alastair Sim, Fay Compton, Guy Middleton, and George Cole


Now, in regards to the overall style of this movie, and more or less, everything we see on screen can easily be broken down into two different components. The visual component, which mostly comprised a series of nicely framed scenes that were shot on a set and decorated with the normal things you’d expect to see from a British production made during this era, ranging from mahogany furnishings, to unflattering offices, all the way to suburban landscapes. As well as the acoustic component, which mainly included a selection of orchestrated music that either emotionally enhanced a scene, Rum-ta-ta-tum!, or indicated a plot point, Ding!, and helped in the telling of the story. So, all in all, there was nothing new, nothing distracting, and nothing too offensive.

Laughter in Paradise - Poster
Anyway, that’s enough of that for the time being, because I think now would be a pretty good time for us to sit back, relax, and check out the following filmic facts: (1) ‘Associated British-Pathe’ first released this production in London, England, on the 1st of June, 1951. (2) Audrey Hepburn was originally cast to play one of the main female roles in this movie, but due to other work commitments on stage, she ended up playing a smaller part instead, the sexy cigarette girl. (3) Loosely translated, this project was entitled, ‘Who Laughs Last’ in West Germany and ‘Veijar's Last Will’ in Finland. (4) One of the taglines used to promote this picture, states, ‘He sets the whole world laughing... there's even Laughter in Paradise!’. (5) The majority of this movie was shot inside, ‘Associated British Studios’, situated in the English village of Elstree, Hertfordshire, although the shoplifting scene was shot on location in the ‘Swan & Edgar’ department store, Regent Street, London. (6) This film was remade in 1970 under the new name of, ‘Some Will, Some Won't’. It starred Ronnie Corbett, Dennis Price, and Leslie Phillips, along with Eleanor Summerfield, who played 'Sheila Wilcott' in this 1951 version, as opposed to 'Elizabeth Robson' in the second one. (7) The car Beatrice Campbell's character drove in this movie was a 1950 Studebaker Champion Convertible.


Laughter in Paradise - Fay Compton, John Laurie, and others


Laughter in Paradise - Guy Middleton and Audrey Hepburn
In closing my review of ‘Laughter in Paradise’, I’m now going to rank each key performance in order of preference. So, at the top of my list, I’d like to select the two main stars of the show, Alastair Sim and Fay Compton, because they both managed to add a sense of realism to what was basically a farcical scenario. After all, Alastair played Deniston Russell as if he were a wounded deer trying desperately to juggle with one hoof, whereas Fay, on the other hand, depicted Agnes Russell as a cantankerous old curmudgeon who slowly, but surely, saw the light. Up next, I’d like to mention the actors who were cast as the two remaining members of the ‘Russell family’. Namely, Guy Middleton, who portrayed Simon (the lecherous Lothario) as if he were the second coming of Leslie Phillips, as well as George Cole, who played Herbert (the cowardly clerk) in a rather demure yet timely fashion. And as for the rest of the cast? Well, more or less, they all gave a fairly interesting performance, especially Joyce Grenfell (Elizabeth Robson), John Laurie (Gordon Webb), and Ernest Thesiger (Endicott), on account of them being memorable and occasionally charming. 

Anyway, all that aside, and on the whole, I would just like to say that this film was a pleasure to watch, because it was funny in places, predictable in others, but still managed to put a smile on my face.

THE RATING: B

LAUGHTER IN PARADISE (1951) LAUGHTER IN PARADISE (1951) Reviewed by David Andrews on July 13, 2020 Rating: 5

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