Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Review: The Wrong Box

The Wrong Box (1966)

The Finsbury family has a problem.  The eldest brothers, Joseph and Masterman Finsbury haven't spoken in over forty years.  They are also the only two survivors of a tontine with the last one left alive receiving a fortune of 100,000 pounds sterling.  This is causing something of a strain because Masterman has been dying for sometime and Joseph, whose venal nephews Morris and John have been striving mightily to keep in good health has apparently died in a train wreck.  Not wanting to see a fortune slip away, Morris is determined to keep his uncle "alive" until Masterman dies.  Meanwhile, Masterman's grandson Michael pines silently for his cousin Julia who pines silently for him.

Then things get odd.

Based on the Robert Louis Stevenson/Lloyd Osbourne novel of the same name, The Wrong Box is a charming, Ealingesue comedy that combines benign humour with morbid wit and a dollop of '60s satire.  Sending up Victorian mores, melodramas and railway toilets all wrapped in a farcial package, it provides 105 minutes of harmless comedy.  That, however, doesn't translates into dull.  The cast headed by Ralph Richardson and John Mills with Michael Caine, Nanette Newman, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore do a marvellous job of playing the silliness of the plot with dead-straight conviction while Tony Hancock and Wilfrid Lawson scoop any laughs that might have rolled by.   The storyline starts out following the novel fairly closely, but instead of making the wayward body one element of a broader comedy, Director Bryan Forbes turns it into the centre of pure farce that ends in chases,confusions and people being hit with handbags.

He also takes the opportunity of introducing Peter Sellers as a "venal doctor" whom Peter Cook approaches  in search of a phoney death certificate.  Whatever the failings of the wider picture, the singular opportunity of seeing Sellers and Cook playing off one another is worth the effort of setting the DVR.

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