Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Chiltern Hundreds (1949)

Reg is back with one of the first films he promised to review for Unseen Films. Its a comedy with a decided political bend which he says is perfect for the British political season.

This is an utterly silly film, but given what is going on in Britain this week, there could not be a better time to review it.

The plot is fairly simple, young Viscount Tony (David Tomlinson) is doing his national service and all weekend leave is cancelled except for candidates in the upcoming general election. Tony recalls that his family have held the local constituency for the Conservatives for generations, so he declares himself a candidate.

Now I'll put on the brake right now because I've already gone too fast for some readers. Yes. I did say David Tomlinson and yes it is the father from Mary Poppins. He is indeed playing the Hugh Grant role in this film. At the time, he was a credible romantic lead.

But he is deservedly only third billed in this film.

To continue with the plot, Tony comes home to stay with his family. His father played by the great AE Mathtews, (If you don't know who AE Matthews is, you are sorely ill-educated about comedy films and I can see that I'll have my work cut out here,) cares nothing for politics and is more concerned about the rabbits on the lawn and how frequently he can hit the little buggers with his double-barrelled shotgun. (It has been this reviewers experience that the double-barrelled shot-gun is an extremely ineffective tool for hunting rabbits, experience backed up by watching Warner Brothers cartoons, But I digress, (Seriously though. Elmer Fudd, ,175 hollow points, Daffy Duck, you could have been the star.)

This film is about the British class system and despite its age and almost breath-taking naivete with regard to the British electoral system, it seems oddly current.

Viscount Tony loses the election to the Labour candidate, Mr Cleghorn, who is swiftly kicked upstairs to the House of Lords and suggests that public-school-educated, well-spoken Tony might do better as a Labour candidate. (No! Don't go there,because I've been there already and the T shirts are rubbish.)

But Tony runs as a Labour candidate, which so upsets the long-suffering family butler Beecham (Cecil Parker), that Beecham feels compelled to stand as the Conservative candidate and of course,he wins.

I won't spoil the ending although the title does give a huge hint if you're well versed in how the British political system used to work.

Cecil Parker is deserving of top billing in this film. He plays everything completely straight and his Beecham is surely the template that was looked to by Geilgud in Arthur and Denholm Elliot playing possibly the greatest "this is beneath me" butler of all time in Trading Places.

This film is funny, sometimes for the wrong reasons nowadays, but no matter how sophisticated I think myself, I keep coming back to it and it always makes me smile.

The film might be better known to US readers as The Amazing Mr. Beecham. The film currently appears not to be out on DVD.

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