The Sunday Intertitle: Choccy Moloch

I’M ALL RIGHT JACK holds up better than the other Boulting Bros’ satires, I think. It’s unusual in that it’s a right-wing satire that’s actually funny. There is a slight attempt at even-handedness: when a worker explains that by having two unions, they can continually pressure the bosses to raise salaries, he adds that without this crafty approach, they wouldn’t get any raises at all. That’s a pretty minuscule sop.

So if the film, firing in all directions, is FOR anything, it’s for “compassionate capitalism.” If the workers are treated fairly by the employers, we can do away with unions altogether and peace will reign. Kind of weird that they use that title, shorthand for “Sod you, Jack, I’m all right” — intended to convey individual selfishness. Here, the different classes are united in opposition to one another, but there’s real group unity within each. They stick together.

Still, with the bosses played by Terry-Thomas (idiot) and Richard Attenborough (cad) and in bed with sleazy politico Dennis Price (crook) and sleazy foreigner Marne Maitland (seen stealing the cutlery), it’s fair to say nobody comes out of it well. But if you unpick where the film is heading with its argument, you find near-fascism at the end of the ellipsis.

My late friend Lawrie Knight found himself trapped between doors with Roy Boulting: the “filming” light was on so they couldn’t go forward and there was no point going back outside. So they waited. RB noticed Lawrie’s public school tie, and immediately became friendlier than he had been previously. Lawrie was a mere third assistant director. And he was appalled at RB’s sudden change of manner. “I mean, I’m a terrible snob, but this was too much!”

Peter Sellers’ magisterial performance as Fred Kite, union man, makes the film, though it’s crammed to the rafters with superb players in meaty comic roles. Dennis Price raises his game: sure, he’s always good, but he’s always THE SAME. He could have played this role with his eyes closed, but he wakes up for it and knocks it out of the park.

There’s a modest attempt to portray the women as the sensible parties, but this involves showing Mrs. Kite (Irene Handl, fabulous as always) cozying up to our hero’s posh Aunt Dolly with a forelock-tugging obsequiousness that’s portrayed as somehow instinctive and proper. Uncomfortable. Though seeing those two share a scene is a joy.

But I mainly want to talk about the chocolate factory. Our hero (Ian Carmichael, mousy drip to perfection) is taken on a tour of this joint, and if Willie Wonka’s plant is a gaudy death-trap, and that of Lord Scrumptious an expressionistic panopticon, then the Num-Yum factory’s METROPOLIS-inspired imagery, with the rhythmic soundtrack of burping and farting machinery (no doubt inspired by the jazzy chemistry sounds of THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT, a subtler, more compassionate and genuinely curious film than this) takes the film into a nauseating nightmare realm, just for this one scene. It’s a film full of disgust, moral or aesthetic, but it only assumes visceral form here. The boultings may have had the wrong slant on politics and society, but they got one thing right about satire: it’s motivated by nausea.

I’M ALL RIGHT JACK stars Bertie Wooster; Sir Hiss – A Snake; Chance; Kris Kringle; Jeeves; Madame Arcati; Mrs Gimble; Glad Trimble; Canon Chasuble; The Malay; Sgt. Wilson; Mr. Hoylake; Anxious O’Toole; Lenny the Dip; Archbishop Gilday; Orlando O’Connor; Lily Swann; and Sgt. Potty Chambers.

15 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Choccy Moloch”

  1. Simon Kane Says:

    Re: snobbery among the Boultings: I was astonished, and delighted, to find out how blasphemous “Heavens Above” was – literally the Gospel retold beat for beat, but with the Christians turned persecutor because Jesus is now from Birmingham.

  2. La Faustin Says:

    “Stan … are them your own teeth?”

  3. La Faustin Says:

    “All them cornfields … and ballet in the evening …”

  4. La Faustin Says:

    I think the film’s more evenhanded, or even left-leaning, than you do — before we meet the union rank and file, we’ve been treated to a vista of shoddy, pointless (or nauseating!) consumer goods produced by jargon-ridden company men. The capitalists don’t stick together beyond the immediate scheme — the kind of manipulation and kick-backs we see would destroy a business in short order. The Kites are the only kindly people around, and poor Mr. Kite the only idealist. In the end, il faut cultiver son jardin — in the nude.

  5. Yes, maybe… part of it comes from Sellers making Kite a sympathetic idiot, part of it’s already there in the writing.

    I remember seeing a trade union leader on the news when I was a teenager, and he was exhorting the masses: “We want to know the reasons… for the motives… that they are doing to us!”

    I thought: Fred Kite lives.

    It’s easy to be scornful of that inarticulate striving for authority, and the film IS. But “jeropodizing” is a wonderful malapropism.

  6. Heavens Above! disappoints a lot of us because it seems such a waste to cast Sellers as a nice, noble character. And the placement of a true Christian at the story’s centre seems to disguise its bite a little TOO much, to the point where it seems toothless. The radical mockery of institutions and false ideals is certainly there, but unlike I’m All Right Jack we’re offered a character who has a solution to offer, and he’s offering it from inside the church.

    It’s no Nazarin!

  7. bensondonald Says:

    Recalling that “Carry On at Your Convenience” bombed because the comic villain was a self-serving labor boss. The Carry On team, which usually had a pretty keen sense of what their audience wanted, forgot that many (or most) were working-class union members.

  8. Yeah, that’s a weird one. They also had him played by a straight actor rather than a usual member of the team, right? Kenneth Cope as Vic Spanner. Somehow made him more of a villain, not part of the familiar gang.

  9. bensondonald Says:

    Not knowing much about the Boulting films (I’ve got a couple in my one-of-these-days pile), would it be fair to speculate the Boultings and the Carry On team were aiming at different audiences? The former going after carriage trade in big city cinemas, the latter targeting smaller and less upscale venues, and the affable Ealings somewhere in between? That might tie into class attitudes (not to be confused with political attitudes) in their respective products.

  10. Yes, the Boultings are doing SATIRE, and though this sometimes involves lavatorial humour and bare bottoms, as here. So they no doubt expected, and got, broadsheet respectability (denied the Carry Ons, Norman Wisdom, etc). Their comedies were appreciated on the same level as their dramas, and would include literary adaptations — this and Private’s Progress are based on books, but they also did Amis ‘s Lucky Jim.

  11. David Ehrenstein Says:

    I’m suddenly overcome with a notion of what “Carry On Jack” might have been like — with Kenneth Williams as Fred Kite.

  12. There IS a Carry On Jack, but it’s their Trafalgar spoof, with Kenneth Williams as “Captain Fearless.” Though he was an actor who made a great joke of sliding up and down the social scale with his vocal delivery, I don’t think he could have played a working man, and in At Your Convenience (which really IS Carry On I’m All Right) he’s pure management.

    He could play idiots, but always EDUCATED idiots. Actually, his range was far greater than movies allowed him, so maybe…

    In Sid James’ hands, Kite would have been a working class hero, so I can see why the conservative filmmakers didn’t go that route…

  13. Simon Kane Says:

    I don’t see how Heavens Above would have teeth if he didn’t come from the church though. They end up shooting him into space for it, rejecting the one actual Christian in their number. If he wasn’t part of the church he’d present no threat to it.

  14. I guess. Maybe the critical consensus that the film was flat and unthreatening was a way of not dealing with the challenges it presents?

  15. Simon Kane Says:

    Oo, I didn’t know that. Yeah maybe.

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