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A splendid example of the British old boys system being tested to the
Wonderful performances by Mason and Mills ,showing how real acting is
Films like this are so rare now and the incessant mumbling of so many of
modern "stars" leave so much to be desired.
Should be shown along with Tunes of Glory to all students of film to give them a yard stick of how it should be done.
No car chases ,violence,swearing etc,just high class masterfull acting.
The film begins in post war Germany, where John Mills demonstrates his
talent for comedy characters in his role as Clifford Southey, a pompous,
insecure caricature of a British Colonel, whose regiment is agitated by
arrival of a former business acquaintance, Captain Brett Aimsley.
charming rogue who's been selling stolen goods on the black market,
Southey's over-regimented regiment into chaos by holding noisy gatherings
involving gambling and lewd jokes - it's quite astonishing to hear the
quintessential gentleman Mason's gag about the Frenchman who found
happiness! The newcomer's gatherings have destroyed Southey's friendly
of bridge, by stealing away all but the most dedicated bridge players,
understandably, he's not standing for it. He calls Aimsley to his office
with the intention of setting him straight, but Aimsley's charm wins him
over and the pusillanimous Colonel lets his former friend off the hook,
to rat on him for his black market deals while he's on leave in London.
years later, Aimsley has moved to Tahiti to escape his court martial.
Coincidentally, Southey, who is now the director of a chain of hotels,
to town to try to stitch up a deal for a new hotel.
Even though there are few laugh-out-loud jokes in this film, its strength lies in the fact that it is consistently entertaining, partly because of the topsy-turvy relationship between Southey and Aimsley, and also because of the constant deflating of Southey's ego. For example, just as Southey was making progress impressing two female tourists with his encyclopedic knowledge of wine, Aimsley arrives and takes away the bottle Southey has just analysed and praised, then says "We can do better than that in Tahiti. I'll get you something drinkable."
Mills' performance is quite hilarious - he creates one of those absurd characters that needs only to walk into a room for one to start laughing. The funniest scenes in the film involve Southey - who is alone apart from us - rehearsing how he is going to confront Aimsley. Despite his basically good moral character, he's one of those characters we love to hate because of his pomposity and his many unreasonable assumptions about Aimsley.
Mason was the perfect choice to play Aimsley, the charming, likable scoundrel. We remain on his side throughout the film because his charm wins us over, just as it won over Southey early in the film. There are adequate performances from Rosenda Monteros as Aimsley's love interest, the charming and flirty Belle and from Herbert Lom as Chong, the hilarious and politically incorrect caricature of a Chinese shopkeeper.
It is the characters that make this film, but the script is equally strong, save for the redundant sub-plot involving an American sailor who tries to steal Belle away from Aimsley. A dramatic twist towards the end of the film adds to what is a mostly engrossing story. We are left wondering until the end whether Southey will ever finally confront Aimsley, or whether the two will return to being friends, as well as whether or not Southey will get his hotel built. A highly enjoyable film with an excellent cast and a clever script.
A personal favourite of mine, but sadly not available on either video or DVD. Two great British actors of the golden age, James Mason (he of the wonderful voice) and John Mills (who virtually won the Second World War single handed) work wonderfully together. Mills is the working boy made good, Mason his former employer's son. Mills finds himself temporarily in command of Mason towards the end of the war and sets in train a course of events which leads to them meeting again after the war in Tahiti. Admire their actors craft, their comic timing, the under-stated nuances of class warfare. A wonderful little gem of a film.
The essence of this delightful comedy is the English class system that
was of the time. The film's added ingredient, that makes it so
watchable, is aspiration. The twin themes of class and aspiration also
run throughout the sub-plots.
Driven by his desire for success, John Mills' Clifford Southey models himself on James Mason's suave Brett Aimsley, imitating his smart dress, polished speech, and his sophisticated upper-class manner. But Southey frequently reverts to type whenever pressured: as a colonel reprimanding a junior fellow-officer Southey, having worked his way through the ranks, loses his charming manner and barks "get your 'air cut"; later in Tahiti Southey forgets himself when dealing with Marcel, the French policeman, and his flashes of uncontrolled temper and charmless outbursts land him even deeper in it. On each occasion Southey recovers and, as he has trained himself to do, quickly re-adopts the persona of Aimsley to dig himself out.
Southey will never quite achieve the confident, effortless, upper-class charisma that Aimsley exudes in spades - after all it's down to breeding. Captain Aimsley easily disarms Southey's best-rehearsed dressing-downs: "That's Philpott - I take it the firm has lost her too?" exclaims Brett as he notices a picture of the Colonel's wife upon his desk; "But I interrupted you, do forgive me". Brett's innocent interruption blunt his Colonel's attacks and render him lost. Throughout the film, Aimsley stems Southey's flow with such polished interjections.
Ironically, Southey's real persona isn't all that bad: a mixture of gritty determination and acquired manners, he has the right blend for success - no wonder he's the MD! During the scene in which he wins over his fellow directors he mixes the rounded vowels and confident line borrowed from Brett: "Gentlemen, don't do anything I wouldn't do, which of course leaves you free to do absolutely anything"; with the steely flash of quick-fire rhetoric "We've always seen stumbling blocks as stepping stones...". Just like any successful Yorkshire businessman!
So much for the main plot - Mills' character envies Mason's class, and strives to adopt what he can never quite have. But throughout the sub-plots there run similar themes: Belle Annie badly wants to be someone else; alternating between an English lady and an American model, either of which would be a step up the social-class ladder. Because Brett shows little sign of returning to England, her attentions switch to Joey, an American sailor halfway through his Charles Atlas course, who might just help her achieve her secondary ambition of treading the New York catwalk. What aspirations!
Of course, Joey himself has his own agenda, albeit a rather simple one: he wants to be a lover-boy; his womanising desires do not extend to carnal lust - what he really wants is to be an object of desire to like the body-building hunks in his muscle-magazines. A Cassanova image would elevate his status among his fellow crew-members, so he adopts the posturing style of his magazines to win the girl. Too busy showing off his muscles, and expounding his adopted morals, to notice Belle Annie offering herself to him on the beach, Joey finishes up satisfied with his newly-acquired status with his Captain ("What a Cassanova you turned out to be").
Still on sub-plots, what about Herbert Lom's (nowadays)politically incorrect Chinaman, Chong? Clearly he desires the girl, Belle Annie, and does his devious best to win her from Aimsley. But Chong's duplicity when dealing with everyone from American Tourists ("White trash!") to his Anglo-French card school ("All white Christian visitors are welcome on the island") reveals a toadying character to his masters and social betters. He imitates their good manners and behaviour in their company, whilst secretly despising them ("Their white skin! Urgh! And the Smell! Pooh!). Of course Chong can never be anything other than what he is - he is as restricted by his own background as is Southey, "that little clerk".
Look closely and you see other characters whose aspirations cause them to mimic others' behaviour. Roy Kinnear's Captain Enderby, of working class background but elevated army status, has adopted the clipped tones and lofty manner of his Colonel; and the French policeman Marcel's comical literary aspirations cause him, when dealing with Aimsley, to behave as he believes an English gentleman should behave (and relax the law). But Marcel reverts to type and becomes as difficult as any French official when dealing with Southey, who, makes the mistake of rudely declaring Marcel's novel childish.
So the sub-plots mirror the main theme of the film: class, and aspiration. There's a certain vanity throughout, which causes everyone to adopt out of character behaviour.
And Aimsley himself? Mason's character seems at first to lack any social agenda, money aside; perfectly assured and satisfied with his effortless Tahitian life. Yet he too has a secret aspiration - observe how he gazes wistfully at a plane flying overhead; and the fond way in which he reads trivia from his English newspaper. Like Ronald Biggs, Brett Ainsley longs to return to England. What sets him aside is that he will not pursue his particular aspiration - unlike others in the cast - because he has been "cashiered, disgraced" his class and breeding render any such return out of the question.
This doesn't preclude Aimsley from having a little sport with Clifford Southey, by allowing him to shoulder the blame for the attack (and thus pay-back some humiliation and disgrace on his former colonel) even after the penny has dropped that his attacker must have been Chong. Southey, angry and uncouth, departs the island but then (in the final twist), copy-catting Brett Ainsley to the last, takes it on the chin with a civilised farewell wave.
Lt.Col. Southey (John Mills) is an officer promoted a rank,or,perhaps,two above his abilities - not an uncommon occurrence in wartime - Capt.Aimsley(James Mason) a natural leader and charming rogue a class above Southey in every respect but one.He treats his nominal military superior as he might the ageing family labrador.Popular and charismatic,Capt.Aimsley is everything Col. Southey is not but aspires to be.The scene where,alone in his office,he practises copying Aimsley's accent is brilliantly observed. Unfortunately money is Aimsley's Achilles Heel and his profligacy sees him removed from Southey's command. Some time after the war Aimsley's comfortable exile in Tahiti is rudely interrupted by the arrival of his old adversary now director of a hotel chain looking to expand into the burgeoning South Seas market. What was virtually a two-hander featuring two of Britain's best film actors then,regretfully,broadens out into a not particularly funny or engaging comedy with stereotyped minor characters and a largely superfluous love interest.Some of the exchanges between Mills and Mason shine through the fog of ordinary,but the film loses most of its impetus. James Mason has exactly the right air of supreme self-confidence that the public school man exudes,the sense of being comfortable in his own skin whether in an Officers' Mess or on a South Sea Island. John Mills,probably a Grammar school boy,certainly not quite a gentleman.He may have money and business acumen but he will never be one of "them" no matter how rich and successful he becomes and that rankles. Whenever they are on the screen together "Tiara Tahiti" comes alive. Without them it would be very thin gruel indeed. If you want to see another film with James Mason exiled on an island try to catch the little-known British comedy "A Touch Of Larceny",it's clever,funny and altogether enchanting.John Mills out - acts Alec Guiness's bravura performance in "Tunes of Glory" as Col Barrow,on the face of it rather a cold fish,but with unsuspected sensitivities,not unlike Col Southey
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As "guyfs", who wrote the previous comment, says this is a little gem of a
film that should be available in video. The "acting duel" between John
and James Mason is a pleasure to watch. Mason's character (Capt.Aimsley)
a bit more complex than Mill's and he plays it beautifully. He could be
described as "a likeable rogue" whose luck has run out. The scene where
Mason arrives to the headquarters of his new unit and reads the
order-of-the-day is a wonderful introduction to his character and a great
piece of acting.
John Mills (Col.Clifford-Southey) is also terrific in his portrayal of a man who is haunted by his past. His insecurity when facing Mason, the man who is really "in command" of the situation, turns him into a grotesque caricature of an officer. Look carefully at his pathetic "rehearsals" before meeting Mason; behind the obvious comical aspect of them there is a sad, desperate man who feels threatened by a man who has all the confidence and style that he lacks.
I think that labelling the conflict between Aimsley and Clifford-Southey as "a class-war" is a misunderstanding. Clifford-Southey (Mills) does not resent Aimsley because of his social position, which is slightly higher than his (Aimsley is a Guardsman); what he resents, and craves, is the self-confidence and natural charm of this man who is a born seducer (note the other officers's reaction at his behaviour)and a winner. It is not a question of class but of character (Aimsley could have been played by his valet or chauffeur)and he knows that Aimsley knows it.
The film looses a bit of edge when the action moves to Tahiti but still is watchable, particularly when you know that there is more to come. What I found completely redundant, is the ridiculous American body-builder, trying to seduce the native girl. His presence can be only explained as a jibe to the Americans (something that the English are very fond of) but still is a waste of time. The character played by Herbert Lom as the evil Chinese merchant is, unfortunately, too grotesque to be taken seriously and conspires against the dramatic plot. Considering all this, the film still manages to pack a punch with a moving finale. It is a deceivingly light-hearted film and a wonderful opportunity to see two of the greatest English actors of all time engaged in duel that brings out the best of them.
It is clear that the cast were having a great time effectively enjoying a paid trip to a tropical paradise.It is a shame that they didn't take the writers along to beef up the script.The problem is that the director seems to enamoured of the background that he is forgetting what is happening in the foreground.Mills gives his "Tunes of Glory" performance.Mason gives a performance which is sort of a refined Rokesby.The type of performance he would give throughout much of the next 20 years eg Age of Consent,Touch Of larceny.Lom plays an oriental,please get real.The attempted murder idea is simply a very poor device to bring the film to the desired ending.Most of the rest of the cast are allowed to overact to allow them to be noticed in front of the scenery.
I remember watching this film as a youth maybe fourteen or fifteen years of age. The film to me was enjoyable because of James Mason's shady, easy going character. Little did I realise then what made the film so enjoyable. At the time I knew it was over 'class distinction' but many years later after watching it again did I realise the performance of both Mason and Mill's. Between them they managed to make a mockery of ill feeling between the classes (Mill's middle class against Mason's working class). The comedy of this picture is underestimated. The ending of the film is most memorable when both characters come to an understanding as Mason waves to Mill's as he sails away from Tahiti.
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