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It was a bit of a shock that, when Alec Guinness passed away many, so
many of his obituaries insisted that "Star Wars" was his most memorable
film. For those unfortunates who remember him that way, the Ealing
Films he made during the 1950s are absolutely essential viewing.
Not least among those films is this little opus, in which Guinness portrays an ex-naval officer who suffers from catastrophic mal-de-mer. Unable to go at sea but not wishing to be away from it, he assumes command of the only type of "vessel" he can endure, an amusement pier.
It is Guinness's characterization that makes this film work. The very fact that he plays Captain Ambrose absolutely straight is what makes the character so funny, including a wonderfully spot-on parody of Noel Coward's speech to his crew from "In Which We Serve": "An efficient pier is a happy pier". Of course, it is granted that audiences back in 1957 undoubtedly picked up on allusions such as that much more readily than audiences would today.
The film also features a running theme prevalent in many British comedies of that period, namely the individual overcoming big bureaucracy or big business. In this case, when the local town council threatens to close down his amusement pier, the imperturbable Captain Ambrose outwits them by means of the clever expedient of registering his pier as a ship, under a foreign flag of convenience. It's just the sort of solution one would expect from the inventive studio that brought audiences "Passport to Pimlico".
I understand this film was also released under an alternative title, "Barnacle Bill". However, under any title, it is a worthy addition to the seemingly limitless pantheon of characters portrayed by the remarkable Alec Guinness.
The Guiness persona makes this stereotypical British comedy worth a look; but this is a minor effort compared to his earlier work at Ealing. The irony of the central character and the pokes at bureaucracy are somewhat simplistic and lack the dark wit of earlier projects like KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS, MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT and LADYKILLERS. Still, any Guiness is better than none at all!
Although most Americans have little knowledge of his work other than
Star Wars, Alec Guinness produced an amazing body of work--particularly
in the 1940s-1950s--ranging from dramas to quirky comedies. I
particularly love his comedies, as they are so well-done and seem so
natural and real on the screen--far different from the usual fare from
This very odd little movie is about a navy captain who comes from a long family line of sea captains. The problem is, he gets so deathly seasick that his career is spent ashore! Out of the blue, he becomes the owner of a seaside amusement pier and begins to envision it as his "ship". He talks as if it's a boat and runs it with naval efficiency as well. See the film--it's funny and very absorbing!
From Ealing Studios comes "All At Sea," a 1957 film starring Alec
Guinness and a cast that includes names which were or became familiar
names/familiar faces in British film and theatre productions (and in
one case, books): Irene Browne, Maurice Denham, Lionel Jeffries, Joan
Hickson, George Rose, Jackie Collins, Donald Pleasence, and Eric
Pohlmann, most of these actors in small roles.
Captain Ambrose comes from a long line of sailors who had sketchy histories, but he himself can't get on the water because of seasickness.
After the war, he buys an amusement pier in a resort town, which the town council wants to tear down. However, he is too clever for them. He has it registered as a ship, thus making it impossible for them to get rid of it.
He is able to make the pier profitable and becomes friends with the woman (Irene Browne) who has rental huts on the beach that are about to become displaced by the grand plans of the council. And they haven't given up yet.
Amusing film with Alec Guinness playing Captain Ambrose -- and like most great actors, he does the part seriously, which makes it funnier. He carries the film as the other actors have small roles. Browne's is a little bigger and she is wonderful as first an enemy of the captain and then as a warm friend.
The final scenes are excellent, as Ambrose's heritage comes into play. Really fine film.
In the same year as Alec Guinness starred in 'The Bridge Over The River
Kwai' he created one of the most delightful comic characters of the
Fifties in this hidden gem which is fortunately available on DVD.
Guiness portrays a seasick former naval officer battling the greedy machinations of corrupt City Council members at an English seaside resort.
The twists in the plot are delicious fun, and I enjoy it's wry dialogue even more than other classic British comedies penned by the same screenwriter such as 'Lavender Hill Mob' and 'Passport to Pimlico', T. E. B. Clarke.
Notable in the cast are impeccable Irene Browne and a starlet by the name of Jackie Collins, who became a celebrity by writing novels set in Hollywood.
Please seek the DVD of this brilliant comedy performance by Guinness.
Low key citizens versus the establishment comedy from Ealing Studios
stars Alec Guinness as a would-be naval captain, prevented from of a
life spent at sea by acute sea sickness, his consolation is to convert
a peer into a amusement park depicting a luxury cruise liner, but the
local council led by Maurice Denham wants to close him down.
Guinness has multiple roles (as visions) while Irene Browne plays his ally in the fight against Denham and his cronies (principally Lionel Jeffries and Victor Maddern), with growing sympathy from members of the council who see his amusement park as a positive investment for tourism (Alan Cuthbertson, principally). Prolific Percy Herbert plays Guinness' faithful first mate, while Richard Wattis and Donald Pleasance have minor cameos.
Though it's probably one of Guinness' most obscure movies (there's a reference to a better known Guinness' 1950 film "The Mudlark"), it remains a capable comic farce, middle of the road comedy carrying most of the hallmarks that made Ealing the manufacturer synonymous with traditional British comedies in the 1950's.
I love Ealing comedies. I love Alec Guinness. So I looked forward to
seeing this when it was shown on TCM a few days ago.
What a disappointment. The jokes are lame, the plot is stupid. A stupid plot does not automatically make a film a failure of course (is there a plot-line sillier than Passport to Pimlico?) but this plot is un-funny stupid. And what I especially resented was the sight of stalwart actor/comedians like Lionel Jeffreys and Maurice Denham trying to do their best with this witless material.
If you've an ambition to watch every Ealing Comedy ever made, then look it up. There is no other reason to waste your time with it.
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