|Page 1 of 2:|| |
|Index||14 reviews in total|
Peter Sellers and Terry-Thomas here vie for the honours in a dated but
sparkling piece of bunkum. A comedy that aims at so many targets (the cold
war US/USSR rivalry, the UN, the British civil service, 'banana
republics'...) normally fails, but this certainly has more hits than
There are two unmissable scenes. The first is a military march-past which is rolling-on-the-floor funny from first to last: the mixed up commentary (note the point when the commentator finally gets a sentence right!); the shenanigans on the parade ground; and the collapsing review stand all combine to excellent effect. Second, a more minor but tasty scene where a table dancer (she is dancing ON the table) distracts Terry-Thomas in the course of his diplomatic discussions- surprising how much eroticism can get through the ludicrously heavy censorship of the period!
John Le Mesurier does an effective job in a 'wicked uncle' role torn straight from the pages of 19th century melodrama. Those who recall him from his small role in Ben-Hur might have cause to reflect that here is a supporting actor who gets about a bit!
Overall, both Terry-Thomas and Peter Sellers have appeared in better films but, in parts, as funny a film as you are likely to find on a wet afternoon.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
My abiding love of Italian actress Lucianna Paluzzi, who helped jump-start my puberty with her performance in 1965's "Thunderball," has led me to some fairly unusual places. Case in point, this British curiosity from 1959, "Carlton-Browne of the F.O.," which features Lucianna in one of her earlier roles. She plays a princess in this one, although the picture is actually a showcase for the talents of Terry-Thomas and Peter Sellers, both of whose stars were certainly on the rise at this point. In this cute, often very funny film, we learn of the Madeira-like island nation of Gaillardia, which had been a British colony until 1916 and then universally forgotten. Forty-three years later, however, it becomes the center of worldwide attention and international espionage when valuable cobalt deposits are discovered there, and Her Majesty sends the bumbling Carlton-Browne of the Foreign Office to take charge. Terry-Thomas underplays this part nicely, as does Sellers in his role as Prime Minister Amphibulos of the tiny country. (This was Sellers' second film of 1959 concerning a tiny country matching wits with the world, the other being "The Mouse That Roared," of course.) Ian Bannen almost steals the show here as Gaillardia's suave king, and my girl Lucianna is as appealing as can be in her minor role. The film exhibits much in the way of very dry humor, although there ARE some belly laughs to be had (the reception at the Gaillardian airport, for example, and especially that May Day-style parade of Gaillardian strength). And Sellers' seedy prime minister, with his cracked English and seemingly perpetual sweat stains, is yet another memorable character in this great actor's pantheon. Despite the occasional instance or two of indecipherable, stiff-upper-lip British gibberish, I found this picture to be a winningly modest entertainment, and well presented on this crisp-looking Anchor Bay DVD.
CARLETON-BROWNE OF THE F.O. used to appear with some regularity in the
New York metropolitan television area of the 1960s, but it was called
"THE MAN IN THE COCKED HAT". This was not unusual. The comedy "THE
NAKED TRUTH" was called "YOUR PAST IS SHOWING". I saw it twice back
then, and remember a few points that have been downplayed in these
It was not as serious a film as it seems to be to some of the reviewers. Rather it touched on the serious because it dealt with the end of Britain's empire and the way the cold world politics of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. got entwined everywhere. What was being shown in the satire was that Britain (in the personality of it's man on the spot, Carleton-Browne (Terry-Thomas)) was too civilized to handle the realities of the dark politics of the era (keep in mind the film is British, so it is not really looking closely at the view of British policies and actions from the point of third world countries). The irony of the film is that those civilizing traits happens to be the unifying point that brings an end to the civil war bloodshed that is smashing the island kingdom of Gaillardia apart.
After showing how behind the times the foreign office of Raymond Huntley and Terry-Thomas is, we are taken to Gaillardia. A play is being attended by the King and his oldest son and heir, both of whom are bored by it. One of them says something like, "I'm blow-ed if I stay here". At that a bomb explodes killing them (paging Alistair Sim in THE GREEN MAN). The younger son, Ian Bannen, returns to the island, only to find that his uncle (John Le Messurier in an unusually ruthless and power-hungry role) is there to tell him it would be wisest if he would abdicate now. Bannen, who has been living in England, is trying to make his country a successful constitutional monarchy like mother England. He calls in the British Foreign Office, as his local "support" is the corrupt Prime Minister (Peter Sellers). The Foreign Office sends Terry-Thomas.
He has no idea of what to do. The island is slowly splitting in half, due to the activities of Le Messurier and his candidate for the throne, a Princess of the house. Le Messurier does not know that the Princess (Luciana Palluzzi) has met the young Bannen when they both were returning home (both had been in England). Actually she is just as set to set up the constitutional monarchy as Bannen is (and as Le Messurier is not, nor - for that matter - as Sellers could care for). Unless you keep that in mind the plot of this seems aimless.
Carleton-Browne (in his fumbling) comes up with a solution. It resembles the shamble solutions of East and West Germany (until 1989), Cypress (until today), North and South Vietnam (until 1975), and North and South Korea. He sets up a dividing line for Gaillardia so that both parties will be satisfied. It is voted on by the U.N. Security Council without any problem. Then it turns out that the aggression that Le Messurier brought to the matter was due to the U.S.S.R. It seems that the Northern part of the island has a valuable mineral the Russians need. When Carleton-Browne tries to undo the agreement, because he had not known this, Russia says he can't.
The British have been patrolling the demilitarized border area. Suddenly open civil war breaks out. Le Messurier thinks it is his opportunity, only to find his niece has a mind of her own, and it has no place for him as an adviser. Similarly (earlier) Bannen overhears Sellers offer to put the young king out of the way if Le Messurier will agree that he continue as Prime Minister of the reunited country. Bannen and Palluzzi both disappear, rendering their "pupper masters" useless. They only reappear when they confront Carleton-Browne - together they have formed a majority counter-insurgency to overthrow Le Messurier and Sellers. They are uniting to save the country.
They do. Basically what happens at the end is that Bannen and Palluzzi will marry and bring a constitutional country (based on Britain) to the island. Le Messurier (stunned and sad faced) is going to retire to some hotel in Europe where ex-monarchs congregate at. He will be accompanied by Sellers.
The comedy is in the film, but it is not consistent because of the commentary on modern diplomacy. Russia gets slapped for supporting dubious regimes (it's supporting a monarchy here, of all things) for raw materials. The U.S. is not directly affected (it is Britain that is), so when a sequence of news headlines from Britain show what a disaster is about to happen, the American newspapers reflect some trivial items of passing interest. In the last sequence, symbolically, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. have sent teams to play a soccer match in front of the Gaillardians. Carleton-Browne, despite his naivety and bungling, has won a victory for British civility (if not for the empire). He kicks the first soccer ball, as Sellers looks with patient interest, and an explosion occurs (paging again, Alistair Sim). But a final newspaper headline mentions he is being awarded a knighthood for his wonderful success as a diplomat, while he recovers.
Another comedy about a plucky little country struggling through the jungle of the modern (for the forties) global world with only native wit and pluck to guide them, this is a fine entry in the Ealing cannon. Terry-Thomas sparkles as usual in the lead, as a feckless ministry man led to the brink of disaster when a nation he is supposedly in charge of starts attracting the interest of the world, Ian Bannen makes a great romantic lead, Peter Sellers puts in one of his quieter performances as a corrupt politico and the uber-suave John Le Mesurier plays against type as a rugged revolutionary leader. Lots of fun is had by all, especially the viewer; perhaps not in the very top echelon of Ealing classics, but pretty high up.
Partially from the perceived need, one feels, to include a conventional
love story in the plot to make the film more marketable to a 1950's
The film starts with some wickedly funny characterizations of the upper-class bureaucrats running the Foreign Office --- the British are pilloried in the way that only the British can pillory themselves. But after that, the film loses its way in a conventional farcical plot. Terry-Thomas watchable as always, but the great talent in the cast (Peter Sellers, et al) is largely wasted.
A diverting, but not great film.
I'd love to know the story behind this Pacific Island country of
Gaillardia where they seem to speak some kind of language close to
Italian, but it's on the 33rd parallel latitude in the Pacific. Could
some other enterprising Italian sailor before Columbus have gotten
there and bred with the natives?
In any event they have a new young king in Ian Bannen courtesy of an assassination, a double dealing prime minister in Peter Sellers and they've been a British protectorate for some generations now. But the place is so small and insignificant that no one quite remembers it at the Foreign Office headed by Raymond Huntley.
It falls in the office of Miscellaneous Territories headed by Terry- Thomas and that should tell you all you need to know as he's sent out on a diplomatic mission to find out why everyone is so interested in this place all of a sudden.
Man In A Cocked Hat has some funny moments, but it's generally a weak satire on the art of diplomacy British style. This film recalls in the recent past the blundering diplomacy of the Suez Crisis which brought down a Tory Prime Minister served by a Foreign Secretary much like Huntley.
Terry-Thomas and Peter Sellers fans should like this though.
The Island of Gaillardia was discovered in 1720 when an English vessel with
a cargo of oranges ran into it in the dark. As a result, Great Britain
gained a colony, the captain lost his ticket and the inhabitants lived on
marmalade for months. Great Britain little knew what she was taking on. With
two branches of the Royal family at daggers drawn, war between North and
South had long been a national pastime and neither side took kindly to
outside interference. After 200 years, Great Britain threw in the sponge and
granted the islanders self governance. Sadly no one told her representative
and in 1959 he was still at his post when the present king was killed, his
son brought in and both the UK and the USSR looking to gain favour. From the
UK, Carlton-Browne is sent to negotiate.
With a big cast of reliable British names in the leads I was keen to see this film. However it failed to really impress me at any point for any sustained period. The plot had potential and is only really let down by the prolonged courtship/romantic scenes that producers feel obliged to include in many comedies of the period. Sadly this reasonably well designed plot has two other major flaws. Firstly it becomes a little too complex for such a lightweight affair as this political motives and hidden agendas are all brought in which, while not complicated, certainly clutter the film. Secondly it is simply not very funny or even amusing.
Near the start and throughout the film has quite a few good jokes at the expense of the British system, the opening credits (partly quoted in my first paragraph) make a dig at the Foreign Office and there is a good running joke about the Ministry of Works Council constantly digging holes around the Island. This is not enough and the rest of the film is just about passable as it lacks any clear humour and any potential whimsy is choked by the messy plot.
It is a shame because by and large the film had a very talented cast at it's disposal. Thomas is good in the lead but seemed quite understated (but still a good lead). Sellers has a few good scenes but is largely underused and a bit of a waste. It was good to see Le Mesurier in a role that didn't require him to be wishy-washy as usual but again he has little to do. I was pleased to see Paluzzi (Thunderball in the film as I have always felt she is a very beautiful woman in a classic beauty type of way with a real touch, it is a shame that most of her scenes are the excess romantic things.
Overall this film is just about light enough to pass the time but I did find it to be a real disappointment. The plot starts well but gets confused and cluttered, the cast are given little to do to show their talents and the material is amusing at best, but never laugh out loud funny. Shame, there are plenty of better films with these talents in so why waste time on this one?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This amusing, if not remarkable, political comedy is a sardonic comment
on the British domination of much of the world, even after World War
II. It takes a while to get going, concentrating on the British history
of a fictional territory called Galardia, and the visit from British
noblemen to check on the state of the union. This is more an ensemble
piece than a star vehicle, but will attract interest more for the
presence of popular British funny men Terry-Thomas and Peter Sellers.
The way these two geniuses deliver a simple line or make a reaction to a pratfall makes the gags or jokes funnier than they really were. Some of these gags come out of nowhere and aren't always plot related, but some of them are rip roaringly funny. This could be compared to the later "The Mouse That Roared", a better known film that had a plot that everybody could understand and reached beyond the confines of the British culture, something that this film seems to require, or at least some familiarity with certain customs, traditions or manners, or at least a familiarity with the type of subtle or droll humor that British comedies are famous for.
While Terry-Thomas is not all that well-known today, he made some
wonderfully funny films in the late 1950s and 60s. As for Peter
Sellers, he made some ingenious and funny films. You'd think putting
these two men together would result in a memorable film...but this is
not the case with "Carlton-Brown of the F.O.". While mildly
interesting, it's far from a classic. Given the material, it should
have been a lot more interesting.
1959 was the same year that Peter Sellers starred in the wonderful parody of politics and a tiny fictional film, "The Mouse That Roared". Oddly, "Carlton-Browne" has a very similar plot, some of the same cast and came out at almost the same time! But, because "The Mouse That Roared" was such a wonderful film, "Carlton-Browne" has been forgotten.
The film is about the fictional country of Gaillardia--a tiny country that had been part of the British empire. When the film begins, the ancient British representative on the island alerts his superiors in the UK that "something is up" there. Apparently, some folks have been digging holes and some Russian-types have been seen there. This information eventually results in a series of international incidents that are all a microcosm of the struggle between the East and West at the time.
So why did the film turn out so ordinary? Well, most of it is the writing. It just isn't all that funny. And, what's worse is that Sellers is almost completely wasted. A very talented man, he DID have a habit of making brilliant and dull films throughout his career. While this one isn't bad, it is a bit dull here and there. Given a re-write, better pacing (it drags) and less "kooky" music, the film might have worked as a comedy. As is, it is a bit clever but that is all.
A flat and rather unfunny British comedy, it is nevertheless revived to a certain degree by nice locations and an interesting, though hardly brilliant, performance from Peter Sellers. I am not sure if Terry-Thomas and Thorley Walters were supposed to look so alike, but either way their similarity in appearance does not help the film, since they are both playing such similar characters that it is easy to forget who is who. The film does have the odd amusing moment or two, and overall it is quite okay stuff to watch, but it is rather far off the par of typical 1950s and 1960s British comedy - and not in a positive direction.
|Page 1 of 2:|| |
|Plot summary||Ratings||External reviews|
|Parents Guide||Plot keywords||Main details|
|Your user reviews||Your vote history|