2014’s box office saw the Lego Movie gain the most money, jumping back, with Studio Canal’s latest release, to 1959 and it shows just how much the cinema landscape has changed. The biggest hit of 1959 in I’m all right Jack has concerns that are just as prevalent today as they were 56 years ago, in that the Boulting Brothers captured the big industrial issues of the day through a star-studded cast and broad comedy, not a million miles away from the Lego Movie – perhaps?
In John and Roy Boulting’s film, Ian Carmichael stars as Stanley Windrush a comically inept upper class darling who is quite unemployable. Failing at every opportunity afforded to him, he is given one final opportunity to work in Industry by his Uncle, Mr Tracepurcel (Dennis Price) and old army friend Sidney (Richard Attenborough). This opportunity sees Windrush in a centrifugal role between the unionist workers and upper class management at a Missile factory. Once there Windrush is introduced to the inner circle by Communist shop steward Fred Kite (Peter Sellers). With all cards on deck, Windrush was employed on the shop floor as the unwitting instigator in a situation designed with high level industrial corruption the goal.
On synopsis alone, I’m alright Jack sound like far more of a severe satire than it actually is. This satire is never anything less than timely, with the execution throwing the idea of tonal consistency under the bus. The film is penned as a comedy, a broad one at that if the dancehall rock of the theme song was to serve as any barometer. The third direction the film is pulling in is that of a public service announcement, there are several points in the film which forgoes any attempt at drama by dropping a radio documentarian’s narration track over footage of Industrial Britain. The latter may only appear for a matter of minutes, but its inclusion isn’t any less odd.
Comedy can unite like few other means of entertainment, unfortunately the humour in I’m alright Jack alludes to the fact that comedy can date horribly. It would be unfair to claim that Studio Canal’s latest fails as a comedy; a more accurate description would be that the big practical gags don’t possess the level of physicality that saw Icons like Charlie Chaplin, Harry Lloyd and Buster Keaton withstand to this very day. Instead, the best gags come from the Argument TV Show and the efficacious mannerisms displayed by Seller’s Kite and his parade of cronies, scenes that play better for being acted with such a straight face.
Peter Sellers was a known commodity at the time; however he was more of a mainstay on television screens than the big Screen. Kite and, the blink and you’ll miss him, Sir John Kennaway, saw him in his first award winning role(s). As the communist Kite, Sellers characterised a man older than himself by decades with utmost believability. The success of a performance is gauged by an actor’s ability to disappear into a role, with his adopted accent and method Kite not once slipped into Sellers. Putting age to one side, the awkward clan affiliated confidence crumbles on a few occasions to reveal a man crippled by ego and pride. Much has been made of Peter Seller comedic acting, and while he was bedfellow with the best his dramatic acting ability was over-zealously overlooked, even at this early stage of his career.
As previously discussed satire also forms much of the Boulting’s film. At the time the class divide was a major issue in British society and this has confidently made the transition from Alan Hackney’s novel, Private Life. The personnel manager of the factory, Hitchcock (Terry-Thomas) describes his work shy underclass as ‘absolute showers’ and the disdain the workers show their superiors is apparent given the factory deeming it necessary to get a ‘time and motion man’ in.
This back and forth gives the film a real sway and objectivity, even the eventual appearance of the press aids this whole little microcosm of odd oddballs. The real selling point in all this is that satire can be so enjoyable and endearing, cynical is the last word I’m alright Jack could ever be burdened with. This amazingly timely classic, by turns charming and shrewd, kick started the career of one of the most beloved British actors of the 20th century and still stands proud to this day.
Studio Canal’s release of this 1959 classic is light in the extras department, with an interview with the film’s ‘only woman’ Liz Frazer (Cynthia). More significant is the new-found clarity and richness in this Blu-ray debut. A restoration job that is a towering achievement in the lion share of the action, but in long angle shots and master shots, that sheen doesn’t last.
I’M ALL RIGHT JACK IS OUT NOW ON STUDIO CANAL’S VINTAGE CLASSIC LABEL ON BLU-RAY