Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I'm All Right Jack


John and Roy Boulting's  I'm All Right Jack (1959)  is a hilarious satire on society and industrial relations in post-war Britain. With a script full of witty dialogue and with consummate skill, the Boulting brothers portray all levels of a once rigid British society, greatly assisted by the cream of British actors of the time. The star-studded cast of I'm All Right Jack includes Ian Carmichael, Peter Sellers, Terry-Thomas, Richard Attenborough, Dennis Price, Margaret Rutherford, Irene Handl, John Le Mesurier and Liz Fraser. 

The comedy begins when affable but naive upper-class Stanley Windrush (Ian Carmichael, above) is finally obliged to embark upon a career. His uncle finds him employment in a missile factory where he meets pseudo-Bolshevik trade Union leader Mr. Kite (Peter Sellers). Stanley quickly accepts Mr. Kite's offer of accommodation upon sighting his glamorous daughter (Liz Fraser, above) who works at the ammunition  factory as a so-called 'spindle-polisher'. 

The collective British work-force are depicted in  I'm All Right Jack as intent upon doing as little work as possible and ever eager upon the slightest pre-text to strike. The humour is subtle but effective. When on strike, after a morning of playing cards and darts, the lunch-bell sounds. "Blimey, it's all go today, mate" declares one worker. The power of the Trade unions, led by the fanatical and ideologically-blinkered trade union leader Mr.Kite is shown in a most unfavourable light. In a role which won Peter Sellers a British Academy Best Actors award, Mr. Kite's rigid adherence to supposed Bolshevik principles is fatally flawed. He's never travelled to Russia and is ignorant of the true human cost of the 'Glorious Revolution' and its consequences under Stalin. When Kite's wife herself decides to go on strike, withdrawing all home labour, leaving him to live alone, he soon sinks into utter domestic squalor. In the meantime, Kite's one-time lodger Stanley Windrush refuses to strike and continues attending work. The media applaud his strike-breaking and crowds throng  outside the home of his aunt Dolly, (Margaret Rutherford) calling out his name and hailing him a National hero. The  film's denouement occurs at a  live TV debate hosted by Malcolm Muggeridge. With his eyes finally open to international business corruption within his family, Stanley Windrush declares money to be the only source of interest and motivation to all concerned. Opening a suitcase full of bribery money he casts handfuls of bank-notes into the air. A mad scramble among members of the TV studio audience ensues. 

Although it's a film over 50 years old,  Roy and John Boulting's social satire retains its relevance. Indeed such was the film's success that its title lives on in common parlance as a cheeky quip of self- interest and complacent indifference to the circumstances of others. I'm All Right Jack  also questions dubious aspects of British culture and morality; the Boulting brothers primary target being the notorious ineptitude of British management which is portrayed as corrupt at all levels. At the heart of the film lies the under-stated question about the moral integrity of manufacturing and export of military weapons, an export which effectively contributes no small percentage towards Britain's GDP today. Filmed after the Suez crisis of 1956 which demoted Britain's place in the world, the character of Mr. Mohammed, a Fez-wearing diplomat engaged in acquiring a large shipment of missiles, takes on a more than stereotypical role in the comedy, hinting that Britain even sells weapons to its enemies, as indeed it does. The  rise of the media and its power, along with youth culture in the form of a skiffle-based theme music and the vacuous intellect of matinee glamour girl Cynthia (Liz Fraser) are also featured. But above all else, as with all good satire, the Boulting brother's film clearly highlights moral decline, in particular the relatively new trend of self-interest in British society. 


Fifty years after I'm All Right Jack was first screened, the less privileged members of British society, that is, the vast majority, are now suffering the consequences of corruption and greed in high places as humorously depicted in I'm All Right Jack. Nevertheless although its hard to imagine there's much of a joke or comedy to be made from the present-day economic crisis facing Europe, its worth remembering that humour and laughter are good medicine for difficult times.    


Wiki-Link -  Boulting brothers
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