Saturday, 3 March 2012

I'm All Right Jack.

John Boulting and his twin brother were an inseparable director-producer team throughout their careers. Inseparable and interchangeable, to the extent whereby they would alternate on films, one taking on production, the other direction and then swapping for their next feature. Their films became known as simply those of ‘the Boulting Brothers’ thinking of them as a whole rather than two separate talents. Together the Boultings brought biting and hysterical satire to the screen. Their comedies of the late 1950’s are renowned for their casting of some of the great comedy acting talents of a generation: Ian Carmichael, Richard Attenborough, Terry Thomas, Irene Handl, Peter Sellers and others. The films took swipes at this country’s ‘great’ institutions, mocking the Church, the Army, and Civil Service and in the widely acclaimed and still highly regarded, I’m All Right Jack (1959) the unions and the upper classes.[1]

It's a lock-out!!!
The film opens with a voice over that tells us that ‘Industry, with tremendous opportunities for the young man, industry, spurred by the march of science in all directions, was working at high pressure to supply those vital needs for which people had hungered for so long’ Stanley Windrush (Ian Carmichael) believes the propaganda so after leaving the army and finishing his university education he decides to go for a middle management job in ‘industry’. At first he attends an interview at a factory that produces ‘Detto the new black whitener’ washing powder and then at another that makes ‘Num Yum the chewy chocolate bar’ both without a great deal of success. Stanley’s uncle, Bertram Tracepurcel (Dennis Price) and ex army comrade Sidney DeVere Cox (Richard Attenborough) persuade him to except a blue-collar position at uncles missile factory that has a rush order for a corrupt foreign power. Unbeknown to the naive Stanley his uncle is using him to stir industrial unrest in order to trigger a strike. When this happens Bertram will use it as an excuse to pass the lucrative order to his shady partner Cox at an increased cost to be split between them and their Arab partner. Poor Stanley finds himself up against the might of the union in the form of shop steward Fred Kite!

Stanley gives it all away.
Peter Sellers made the character of Fred Kite his very own, giving it depth and originality and making him seem a real person, admittedly a little over the top, but absolutely real. It is alleged that Kite was based on a real shop steward based at Shepperton Studios where the film was made. It was this memorable performance that changed Sellers from a great comedic actor into a great character actor and won him the British Academy Award for Best British Actor of 1959.

Fred has a quick chat with the management.
Late 1950’s saw much in the way of industrial strife in Britain because of management’s, and the Tory government’s, uncaring attitude towards the ‘workers’ (Another example of some things never changing.) It’s was against this background that the Boultings produced a film, set in the prosperous South East of England, about work ethics and taking sideswipes at both the Unions and the establishment, the film was one of the most popular releases of 1959. Looking back at this film today confirms that it was one of the great British satire’s and still provokes a degree of left-wing hostility for showing the working class as being lazy, greedy, not prepared to carry out a decent days work for a decent days pay. But equally it highlights the corrupt and unscrupulous shenanigans of management and their lapdogs.

[1] Shepperton Studios History.

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