THE WRONG BOX
John Mills / Ralph Richardson / Nanette Newman / Michael Caine / Peter Cook / Dudley Moore / Wilfred Lawson / Peter Sellers / Tony Hancock / Cicely Courtneidge / Thorley Walters / John Le Mesurier / Norman Rossington / Norman Bird / Leonard Rossiter / Diane Clare / Tutte Lemkow / Patsy Snell / Andea Allan / Cinematography Gerry Turpin / Soundtrack John Barry / Produced & Directed Bryan Forbes
Madness..utter madness. The first time I saw The Wrong Box I didn’t like it, the second time around I still didn’t like it, but appreciated the effort. Farces stuffed with star cameos seldom amount to much, and even when they manage to break even it’s only by the skin of their teeth. ‘What’s new Pussycat?’ & ‘The Party’ dance a dangerous path on the tightrope of cine-heaven/cine-hell, whilst the likes of ‘Casino Royale’ tumble into the void, with little more than Ursula Andress’ alure to stay afloat. Where ‘The Wrong Box’ does succeed though is in it’s witty script, charming cinematography and above all, it’s downright oddness.. Art Nouveau and 60’s Psychedelia with a macabre sense of humour that preemts Python and the modern taste for the bizarre in sketch shows such as ‘The Fast Show’ & ‘The League of Gentleman’.
John Mills & Ralph Richardson play battling brothers who are set to inherit a fortune upon the others demise. Mills’ honest son (Michael Caine) is in love with the beautiful girl next door (Nanette Newman), whilst Richardson’s Sons (Peter Cook & Dudley Moore) seek to obtain the monetary MacGuffin at any risk. Victorian Farce ensues.
With three of the finest British films of the early 60’s under his directorial belt (Whistle down the Wind’, ‘The L-Shaped Room’ & ‘Seance on a Wet Afternoon’) Bryan Forbes career turmed decidedly hit & miss for me..’The Stepford Wives’ being somewhat typical of his later style. The casting of Forbes wife Nanette Newman in the female lead probably caused snickers at the time, but in actual fact she’s rather good here, not that the role demands much more than looking exquisite (which she certainly does). Caine plays an uncharacteristically timid and naive character, which neatly contrasts to his prior role in ‘Alfie’ earlier the same year. The beautifully love scene (well..kiss) between Caine & Newman is the highlight of the film, shot with great sensitivity and wit, comparing the sexual moralities of two very different centuries.
If you want to see the best of Peter Cook & Dudley Moore, then go watch Bedazzled, but there’s still plenty of magic from Pete & Dud, if a little two dimentional. Peter Sellers little skit as a Doctor infested with cats is one of films highest moments of genius, along with the antics of the sublime Wilfred Lawson as Peackock the butler (a clear influence on Julie Walter’s hunched Mrs.Overall character for Victoria Wood). John Mills & Ralph Richardson (in the same jacket he wore for ‘Doctor Zhivago’ a few weeks earlier) add some old school class to preceedings, and clearly have a great deal of fun, as do the rest of the cast..except for poor old Tony Hancock who looks uniformally miserable, a broken man. Larry Gelbart’s intelligent script goes some way to holding the weaker farce elements together, giving the comedic talents of Sellers, Peter Cook & Dudley Moore a steady base to improvise from. Gelbart went on to write for Marty Feldman, as well as lending his aserbic wit to many a M.A.S.H script, and later penning the Oscar winning ‘Tootsie’ screenplay.
‘I have a great interest in the human body..I intend to become a Doctor, as my Uncle often says – If one cannot join the ruling classes, then one must do one’s best to deplete them.’
‘I was in the water closet of the Bournemouth express when it quite unaccountably exploded, thereby extensively damaging the rest of the train. I can’t really think that I was to blame, although at the time I was smoking.’
‘Do I happen to have any death certificates? What a monstrous thing, sir – what a monstrous thing to say to a member of the medical profession! Do you realize the enormity of what you have just said? .. How much?’
‘Oh, I only knew mine vaguely. My father was a missionary. He was eaten by his Bible class.’
‘You remember me – Morris Finsbury. I was falsely accused of stealing a hundred thousand pounds, whereas in fact it was me, and me alone, who was responsible for bringing the Bournemouth Strangler to his just desserts.’