After a long life of pranks and practical jokes, the wealthy Henry Russell (Hugh Griffith) is dead, leaving aside a substantial sum of money to four of his relatives. But old Henry being Henry, things are not going to be quite as simple as that. For each of his relatives are all flawed in various different ways and under the terms of the old rascal’s will, each will have to complete a very specific task before they can get at his money. Each challenge has been perfectly designed to force them to confront their own worst failings.
Agnes (Fay Compton), for example, a dreadful snob is forced to spend a full month in the employ of a middle-class family headed, in this case, by a hypochondriac Scot (played by John Laurie, later of Dad’s Army). For the supremely timid young bank clerk, Herbert (George Cole), however, the task is different. He must stage a hold up at the very bank he works for using a water pistol. Simon (Guy Middleton), meanwhile, is a first-class cad and a womaniser in the mould of the type of characters Terry-Thomas often used to play in films like this. He is obliged to marry the first single woman he speaks to, to get his share of the loot. He actually cheats straight away ignoring the first single woman he meets, a beautiful but presumably penniless young cigarette seller. This very small part is played by Audrey Hepburn in her screen debut.
Finally, there is Deniston (Alastair Sim), a retired army officer, whose life is already pretty complicated even before Henry’s demise. Publicly engaged to an overenthusiastic armed services girl, ‘Fluffy’ (Joyce Grenfell, great as ever), Deniston leads a double life enjoying a secret career dictating the trashy American-style crime novels he has composed to his adoring secretary (Eleanor Summerfield) which are then published under a variety of pseudonyms. Deniston’s task is to commit one actual genuine crime which will seem him incarcerated for precisely 28 days. Sim’s character finds the execution of this, surprisingly difficult.
There are a few extras. Although he obviously hasn’t watched the film that recently, Stephen Fry’s knowledge and genuine love for the film is obvious during his interview. We also get to see Sim hamming it up as the Roman Emperor Nero opposite his frequent co-star George Cole in a wartime short. More dedicated Sim fans might want to listen to his 1949 speech delivered on being elected Rector of Edinburgh University (beating future Prime Minister Harold Macmillan) in full.
Newly restored nearly seventy-years after it first appeared, Laughter In Paradise is still lots of fun. Alastair Sim, in particular gets some marvellous screen moments, self-consciously turning a bust of Shakespeare the other way at one point so as if to prevent the Bard seeing him delivering the particularly purple prose of his latest potboiler (e.g. “she was one hot tomato”). Other brilliant sequences see him make several abortive attempts to throw a brick – for some reason, neatly tied up in string – through a jeweller’s shop window and and a long, drawn out attempt to get caught shoplifting an umbrella in a Piccadilly department store. “The wrong tartan,” he explains, on returning it, embarrassed.
A genuine classic.
Vintage Classics. Studio Canal. Original release: 1951. Cert: U.
Release date: 29 June 2020
Running time: 80 minutes
Directed: Mario Zampi
Cast: Alastair Sim, George Cole, Fay Compton, Guy Middleton, Joyce Grenfell, Hugh Griffith, Audrey Hepburn
New Alastair Sim and Laughter In Paradise Interview with Stephen Fry
Ministry of Information short Nero: Save Fuel (1943) starring Alastair Sim and George Cole
Alastair Sim’s 1949 Rectorial Address at Edinburgh University (Audio Only)
The 1950s was undoubtedly a classic period in the career of character actor, Alastair Sim. This film sees him playing Hawkins, a watchmaker who also operates as an assassin. Early scenes demonstrate how Hawkins has often adopted a variety of ingenious disguises before successfully blowing up his victims. His main target here is an adulterous politician Sir Gregory Upshott (Raymond Huntley) who he tracks to a hotel, The Green Man of the title.
It isn’t long before things take a farcical turn as a vacuum cleaner salesman curiously called William Blake (a young George Cole) and a local beauty (Jill Adams) get drawn into proceedings. With Terry-Thomas playing a philandering cad called Charles Boughtflower and a trio of elderly female musicians also becoming involved, Hawkins’ carefully laid out plans soon descend into chaos.
Although hardly groundbreaking, The Green Man is pleasantly enjoyable fare, packed with familiar faces recognisable to anyone who enjoys post-war British cinema. Can you spot Michael Ripper, Dora Bryan and Arthur Lowe?
And unlike Sim’s hapless assassin, this is a comedy which rarely misses its target.
Directed by: Robert Day
Starring: Alastair Sim, George Cole, Terry-Thomas, Jill Adams, Raymond Huntley
The popular TV cartoon series, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe ran from 1983 until 1985. Essentially designed to promote the Mattel toy range of He-Man action figures, the series was based around Adam, a prince on the planet Eternia and his ongoing struggle for win control of Castle Greyskull with his rival, the malevolent Skeletor. By holding his sword (be serious, please!) and exclaiming “By the power of Greyskull!” Adam could transform into the all-powerful He-Man. There were a whole host of other characters, plus a spin-off entitled She-Ra in 1985, aimed at girls.
Despite being set on a mythical world, He-Man would often end with a straight to the camera moral message to the audience delivered by He-Man himself or by one of the other non-evil characters. These were sometimes edited out of the British transmissions.
Here are just some of them:
There are no magic drugs (He-Man)
today’s story Ilena tried taking a magic potion which she thought would help
her. Well, she found out there aren’t any magic potions. And you know what?
There aren’t any magic drugs either. Anytime you take one from anybody but your
parents or your doctor, you’re taking a very big chance. Your gambling with
your health, maybe even your life. Drugs don’t make your problems go away, they
just create more.”
Skeletor would be especially well advised to stay off cocaine as he doesn’t
have a nose.
2. Be careful when doing practical jokes (Man-At-Arms)
“You’ve all seen how Orko’s magical tricks don’t
always go the way he planned. Sometimes they backfire on him. The same thing is
true of practical jokes. Sometimes they don’t go the way you planned, and you
or someone else can get hurt. So be sure and think twice before playing a joke
or a trick on anybody. It might not go the way you planned and someone could
wind up losing a finger or an arm, or maybe even an eye. And no joke is worth that
is it? See you again soon.”
Bloody hell! An arm or an eye? What sort of practical jokes were they thinking of? One involving a chainsaw? Is that what happened to Skeletor’s eyes?
3. Respect Magna Carta (He-Man and Teela)
“A very long time ago a wonderful document came into being. It was called
the Magna Carta.”
“It was the first big step in recognizing that all people were created
equal. But even though more laws have been passed to guarantee that, there are
still those who try to keep others from being free.”
“Fortunately Queen Sumana realized in time that only by working together
could her city be saved. And that’s the way it should be. Together.
they had Magna Carta on Eternia too then? I didn’t know they even had it in the
4. Don’t ram things too much (Ram Man)
today’s story I sure was busy. Boy, did that hurt. Ramming things may look like
fun, but it really isn’t. Trying to use your head the way I do is not only
dangerous, it’s dumb. I mean you could get hurt badly. So listen to Rammy, play
safely and when you use your head, use it the way it was meant to be used, to
think. Until later, so long!”
that? If you’re ramming while reading this, please stop immediately. Ram Man
(not to be confused with ‘Rainman’) was a minor character. He’s wrong about
this though. Ramming is definitely fun. Ram Man, thank you man.
5, Sleep properly (Orko and Cringer)
“Hi, today we met some people who had slept for over two hundred years.
Well, we don’t need that much sleep, but it is important to get enough sleep.
So here’s some things to remember. Don’t eat a lot before going to bed, a glass
of milk or a piece of fruit makes a good bedtime snack. Try to go to bed at the
same time every night, and avoid any exercise or excitement before going to
bed. Well, goodnight. Oh, goodnight Cringer!”
Does eating fruit before bedtime really help you sleep? I’m not convinced.Anyone…?
6. We all have a special magic (Sorceress) “Today we saw people fighting over the Starchild, but in the end her power brought these people together. It might surprise you to know that all of us have a power like the Starchild’s. You can’t see it or touch it, but you can feel it. It’s called love. When you care deeply about others and are kind and gentle, then you’re using that power. And that’s very special magic indeed. Until later, good-bye for now.”
Sorceress was clearly to busy building a nest to read the first moral, Sorceress. Stay off the magic drugs! (Also, looking at this picture suspect Sorceress might have been introduced “for the dads”).
7. Your brain is stronger than any muscle (Man-At-Arms)
“Being the most powerful man in the universe isn’t all that makes He-Man such a great hero. Being strong is fine, but there’s something even better. In today’s story He-Man used something even more powerful than his muscles to beat Skeletor. Do you know what it was? If you said, ‘his brain,’ you were right. And just like a muscle, your brain is something you can develop to give yourself great power.”
I’m not sure Man-At-Arms was the best choice to put forward this argument, to be honest. He’s got “university of life” written all over him.
8. Play it safe (He-Man and Battle Cat)
He-Man: “I’d like to talk to you for
just a moment about safety. When we go to the beach there are lifeguards there
to watch out for our safety. Crossing guards are in the street for the same
reason, to help protect us. Now things like that are fine, but we can’t count
on someone always being around to protect us. We should practice thinking of
safety all the time. So don’t take a chance. And that’s true whether you’re
crossing a street, or driving a car. Think safety.” Battle Cat: (Roaring)
The beach? ‘Crossing
guards’? Has He-Man been to Earth at some point? And what does “practice
thinking of safety” mean? Nice of Battle Cat to contribute here too. Much
9, Learn from experience (He-Man and Battle Cat)
He-Man: “As we’ve just seen Skeletor went
back into the past to make evil things happen. In reality no one can go back
into the past, that’s only make-believe. But we can try to learn from the past,
from things that have happened to us, and try to apply them toward being better
people today. Remember, it’s today that counts. So make it the best day
possible. Until next time this is He-Man wishing you good health and good
Battle Cat: (Roaring)
Learn from he mistakes of
history. But also live for today: that’s all that matters. Make your mind up,
10. No job is unimportant (He-Man)
“Have you ever had a job to do you thought was boring and unimportant? We all have. Opi did. But no job is unimportant. Opi learned that if he’d done the little jobs his father gave him, things would not have gone wrong. So remember, any job worth doing is worth doing well. No matter how dull it may seem at the time. Bye for now.”
Sadly, this one isn’t true. Some jobs are both boring and unimportant. Composing the moral messages used on the end of children’s TV cartoons, for example.
11. Fighting is bad (Teela)
“Some people think the
only way to solve a difference is to fight. Skeletor for example, his answer to
every problem is fight. He doesn’t care who’s right or wrong. He thinks that
might makes right. Well, it doesn’t. He-Man knows that, even with all his
power, he always tries to avoid fighting. Fighting doesn’t solve problems.
Fighting only makes more problems. See you soon.”
Bloody hell! This is a bit
rich. He-Man spends half of every episode fighting.
12. Read a book (He-Man)
“I hope you enjoyed
today’s adventure. You know television is not the only way to be entertained by
an exciting story. There is another way; it’s called reading. And one of the wonderful
things about books is that they allow you to choose whatever kind of adventure
you like; a trip with an astronaut, an adventure with the great detective
Sherlock Holmes, a comedy, anything. You can find it in a book at your school
or neighbourhood library. Why I’ll bet there are even some good books right in
your own home just waiting to be read.”
In other words, in the immortal words of the 1980s UK kids’ show, ‘Why Don’t You?’ “switch off your TV set and go out and do something less boring instead.” Especially now this episode of He-Man has finished.