The Wrong Box (1966)

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.

Victorian melodrama

‘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?’

Nanette Newman

‘Oh, I only knew mine vaguely. My father was a missionary. He was eaten by his Bible class.’

Wilfred Lawson

A glimpse of stocking..


Shades of D.H.Lawrence

The kiss

Temperance Seven

Tony Hancock

‘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.’


In Which We Serve (1942)



Noel Coward / John Mills / Celia Johnson / Dere Elphinstone / Michael Wilding / Robert Sansom / Phillip Friend / Richard Attenborough / Ballard Berkeley / Kenneth Carten / Kay Walsh / Kathleen Harrison  /  Soundtrack  Noel Coward  / Cinematography  Ronald Nearne  / Produced  Noel Coward / Directed  Noel Coward & David Lean


Few films made during the war years in Britain (with WWII as subject matter) are worthy of much more than curiosity value. Dated morale boosters with little art to carry them through the years. There were of course some wonderful films turned out from the British studios at the time, such as Brief Encounter & Blithe Spirit (both incidentally Lean’s work), but those tended to skirt around the edges of the War, or steer a different course altogether. ‘In Which We Serve’ is an entirely different kettle of fish though. Whilst it decidedly helped to puff-up the resolve of this small islands’ ..eternal and indominitable pride, it does so with such moving power and keen social & cultural observation that it isn’t at all unfair to call it the best of all War films.

With ‘Saving Private Ryan’, Speilberg spent a considerable fortune reconstructing the Normandy landings down to the n’th degree, but really nothing can quite compete with a war film where practically the entire cast were enlisted soldiers (including John Mills, Richard Attenborough and half of it’s production crew) all given short leave by the war office for the tight shooting schedule. Tom Hanks may have spent months getting into character (and given a powerful performance it’s agreed), but Coward gathered together men who had first hand experience of the terrors of war, and it shows on their faces. Through the old thinly stretched mask of plucky British spirit, the stiff upper lip and the unwillingness to show emotion, it sits.. somewhere behind the eyes, bursting out into the light of day for brief moments when left unchecked, before being hastily tucked away, covered by a shrug and a “there’s no use in making a fuss is there.”




Coward wrote, produced and directed In Which We Serve (with the indispensible help of David Lean) in a style that has since become synonymous with Tarantino. Bouncing around the days preceeding the loss of a British destroyer, adding flesh to the usually faceless sailors, from when they first came aboard till their ultimate demise or rescue from the sea. Based in part on the sinking of HMS Kelly off of Crete mid-war, Coward assumes the role that is escentially Captain Lord Mountbatten (Coward even wears Mountbatten’s own cap in many scenes), with Mills, Attenbourgh and the rest under his command. Critics at the time smirkingly dubbed the film ‘In Which We Sank’, but as with much in history, how we cope with defeat is at least as important as how we react to success. Besides, we British always did back the under-dog.

Aside from the marvelous leads Noel Coward & John Mills.. Dickie Attenborough shines with a youthful intensity that is to be put on hold till the war’s end, when he can finally get his teeth into the juicy lead role of villain Pinkie Brown in ‘Brighton Rock’. In a genre that generally relegates women to the sidelines, In Which We Serve gives us two well developed female characters in Coward’s wife Celia Johnson (so, so beautiful) and Mill’s newlywed Kay Walsh, as well as other unusually feisty women in Penelope Dudley-Ward & Dora Gregory (to admittedly Kathleen Harrison’s steriotypical cockney screecher). Between these two couples we see as many parallels as solid divisions in class. Each as instrumental in maintaining the divide as the other. For lovers of film trivia, the onscreen baby son of Kay Walsh & John Mills is actually played by Mill’s own daughter Juliet Mills..beating sister Hayley Mills in the child actor stakes by a few years.




‘ must work and women must weep.’




‘Here ends the story of a ship, but there will always be other ships; we are an island race, through all our centuries the sea has ruled our destiny. There will always be other ships and men to sail in them. It is these men, in peace or war, to whom we owe so much. Above all victories, beyond all loss, in spite of changing values and a changing world they give to us, their countrymen, eternal and indominitable pride.’




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