SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS

PrintE-mail Written by John Knott

Long, long ago (1947, in fact), a former academic by the name of Stephen Potter wrote a spoof self-help book entitled The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship. It was subtitled The Art of Winning Games Without Actually Cheating, so you get the drift on how the gag worked. It was really about how to cheat and get away with it. It was ridiculously popular and Potter wrote sequels throughout the ‘50s. In fact, the suffix “-manship” became part of the English language and we still use it today. So like any cultural phenomenon, somebody had to make a movie of it. But how do you turn a spoof self-help book into a film? Well it took a while, but they got there in the end.

Henry Palfrey (Ian Carmichael) is a reasonably well-off middle-class type who just happens to be hopeless at all he does. When he meets his true love April (Janette Scott), she is inevitably taken away by everyone’s favourite cad, Terry-Thomas. Actually, he’s Raymond Delauney but he might as well be called Terry-Thomas as it’s the same part he always played (“Oh to be in England now April is here” – classy stuff). So Palfrey enrolls in Dr. Potter’s (Alastair Sim) "School of Lifemanship" (in Yeovil, of all places) where he learns you are either “one-up or one-down”. Clever, eh? Turn the author into a character and set a story around the fictional school (the titular School for Scoundrels): we have a film. Potter and his staff teach Palfrey all there is to know about Lifemanship and our hapless hero is unleashed on his enemies to turn the tables.

In a sense, this was actually a bit of a lazy movie. Everyone involved is playing the parts they’d become so familiar to the British public for playing. Carmichael is innocent, Sim is sleazy and Terry-Thomas is Terry-Thomas. But actually that’s why it works so well. It just seems like a celebration of British comics of the era, all doing what they do best with genuine chemistry between them. In the unlikely event you’re not familiar with Terry-Thomas, then this is the one to see as it’s probably his best role: he really is a bounder. In addition to that, you’ve got John Le Mesurier as a sniffy maître d', Peter Jones (yes The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy himself) as a dodgy car salesman and a superb cameo from Hattie Jacques that we won't ruin. Throw in a moral ending (although we would take issue with this - he only gets the girl by being a git even if he does see the error of his ways afterwards) and one of the best breaking-of-the-fourth-wall moments ever by Sim and you have a movie you'd have to be a bit miserable not to like [You mean like people who just picked apart the moral of the story? - Ed]. And if you're that much of a misery-guts, you can at least be fascinated by how the British class system functioned in the late '50s [You certainly know how to have a good time - Ed].

Special Features: Interviews / Trailer

SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS (1960) / DIRECTOR: ROBERT HAMER, CYRIL FRANKEL / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: IAN CARMICHAEL, TERRY-THOMAS, JANETTE SCOTT, ALASTAIR SIM / RELEASED: OCTOBER 5TH

 

Long,
long ago (1947, in fact), a former academic by the name of Stephen Potter wrote a spoof self-help book entitled
The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship. It was subtitled The Art of Winning Games Without Actually Cheating, so you get the drift on how the gag worked. It was really about how to cheat and get away with it. It was ridiculously popular and Potter wrote sequels throughout the ‘50s. In fact, the suffix “-manship” became part of the English language and we still use it today. So like any cultural phenomenon, somebody had to make a movie of it. But how do you turn a spoof self-help book into a film? Well it took a while, but they got there in the end.

Henry Palfrey (Ian Carmichael) is a reasonably well-off middle-class type who just happens to be hopeless at all he does. When he meets his true love April (Janette Scott), she is inevitably taken away by everyone’s favourite cad, Terry-Thomas. Actually, he’s Raymond Delauney but he might as well be called Terry-Thomas as it’s the same part he always played (“Oh to be in England now April is here” – classy stuff). So Palfrey enrolls in Dr. Potter’s (Alastair Sim) "School of Lifemanship" (in Yeovil, of all places) where he learns you are either “one-up or one-down”. Clever, eh? Turn the author into a character and set a story around the fictional school (the titular School for Scoundrels): we have a film. Potter and his staff teach Palfrey all there is to know about Lifemanship and our hapless hero is unleashed on his enemies to turn the tables.

In a sense, this was actually a bit of a lazy movie. Everyone involved is playing the parts they’d become so familiar to the British public for playing. Carmichael is innocent, Sim is sleazy and Terry-Thomas is Terry-Thomas. But actually that’s why it works so well. It just seems like a celebration of British comics of the era, all doing what they do best with genuine chemistry between them. In the unlikely event you’re not familiar with Terry-Thomas, then this is the one to see as it’s probably his best role: he really is a bounder. In addition to that, you’ve got John Le Mesurier as a sniffy maître d', Peter Jones (yes The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy himself) as a dodgy car salesman and a superb cameo from Hattie Jacques that we won’t ruin. Throw in a moral ending (although we would take issue with this – he only gets the girl by being a git even if he does see the error of his ways afterwards) and one of the best breaking-of-the-fourth-wall moments ever by Sim and you have a movie you’d have to be a bit miserable not to like [You mean like people who just picked apart the moral of the story? – Ed]. And if you’re that much of a misery-guts, you can at least be fascinated by how the British class system functioned in the late ‘50s [You certainly know how to have a good time – Ed].

Special Features: Interviews / Trailer

SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS (1960) / DIRECTOR: ROBERT HAMER, CYRIL FRANKEL / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: IAN CARMICHAEL, TERRY-THOMAS, JANETTE SCOTT, ALASTAIR SIM / RELEASED: OCTOBER 5TH


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