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|Index||22 reviews in total|
This was a marvelous little comedy that in many ways is reminiscent of
the great Alec Guinness film, THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT. Like this
other film, the movie's main theme is unintended consequences that
arise from some selfless and altruistic acts of the leads.
Peter Sellers plays a rather "straight" role as a well-meaning and decent Anglican minister. Unlike Inspector Clouseau and Dr. Strangelove, this character is much more subtle and believable. He didn't play the part strictly for laughs but was more of a characterization. Sellers was a truly gifted and amazing man in how he could seemingly become the people he was playing. His gentle manner and working-class accent worked perfectly to create one of the nicest and sincere priests in film history.
The movie is exceptional in that I think the movie can be enjoyed by religious and non-religious people alike. The film is very cynical and explores human nature in such a way that everyone can take something profound from the film. It is also unusual in that while technically a comedy, it is also serious social commentary. It had a lot to say about the teachings of Jesus and just how impossible it would be to truly implement them in a basically selfish world! Aside from a bad word used here or there, none of this should put off by the film. It isn't heavy-handed or preachy and isn't meant to offend organized religion.
The only reason the film only merits an 8 is because the ending is a bit of a let-down. It really didn't make much sense and was impossible to believe and because of this it really blunted the overall effect of the movie.
This is one of the classic British comedies of the 1960's Peter Sellers
is superb as the Rev Smallwood a socialist priest mistakenly sent to an
upper-crust English village. Eric Sykes and Cecil Parker excel in their
roles, Sykes as the lay about, work dodging Smith and Parker as the
holier than thou archdeacon. Irene Handle and Ian Carmicheal also make
appearances in this film in their typical roles played to perfection.
This film is a satire (with elements of farce) on British society particularly the class system as well as religions role in it. The character are typically English and all show their true nature as the Rev Smallwood bumbles his way into a media frenzy without really knowing it.
All in all if you like British comedy this film is a must see but if you haven't lived in the U.K some of the lines and issues may be lost on you.
A classic up there with the likes of The Ladykillers and Lavender Hill Mob as the cream of British Comedy. 8/10
"Heaven's Above!" is a wonderful, well-crafted satire that mocks not
Christianity but hypocritical and cold "religious" people. It is a
British version of "In His Steps" turned on its head and inside-out:
what if a sincere believer (Sellers) attempts to live out the gospel in
the middle of a spiritually dead English parish? Unchristian attitudes
range from the Bishop who complains that Rev. Smallwood (Sellers)
"keeps bringing God into everything," to two women arguing over free
food they have just (undeservedly) received as handouts telling a black
man (Brock Peters) "You don't belong here" under a banner that reads
"Love one another."
The script is rife with topical political and social comments but the real focus is timeless: do people really believe what they say they believe? Is there a place for Christianity in a secular, materialistic society? The ending, which baffles some, gives the answer to this. All serious questions aside, "Heaven's above!" is a satirical, incisive look at human nature.
Peter Sellers is great as the Brummie vicar whose gaucheness brings a
country town to its knees in this famous 60s satire. It's difficult to pin
down the film's target; perhaps the film's so likeable because it seems to
get a dig in at everybody at the same time. Among the targets are:
capitalism, communism, and British society and mores. The moral of the
seems to be that no matter your efforts or intentions, you're unlikely to
improve on the status quo (and could make things a lot worse). So in the
last analysis maybe it's Conservative propaganda.
The film stomps merrily through all the issues with fun effect and should've quit when it was ahead. The final segment is crass and takes off some of the shine.
I shan't go on at any length, as others have already done the job for
me. Instead I'll just drop in a couple of interesting factoids about
1) "Heavens Above!" was the third in a trio (a triptych??) of films satirising great pillars of the British establishment:
Industry/the trade unions;
The previous two in the series were "Private's Progress" (Ian Carmichael as Stanley Windrush - a fraightfully posh chinless wonder, drafted into the army for WWII and finding himself embroiled unwittingly in a grand scheme to steal great works of art) and "I'm Alright, Jack" (Carmichael as the same Stanley Windrush, now de-mobbed and dumped by his despairing family into the shop floor workforce at one of their factories, in the hope that he might learn the business). The Windrush family characters were dropped for Heavens Above, although Carmichael makes a small appearance as "the other Vicar called Smallwood".
2) Fans of the Small Faces should keep their eyes peeled for 'Jack' - eldest son of the huge family of itinerant scroungers who take up residence in the vicarage. It's none other than cheeky cockney mudlark STEVE MARRIOTT, fresh from his West End stint as The Artful Dodger in Oliver !
"Heavens Above!" is a barbed satire that cuts both ways, ridiculing
organized religion for its complacence and its unrealistic aspirations
and humanism regarding the perfectibility of man, especially the
working-class kind. Though far from the funniest Peter Sellers comedy,
it certainly is worthy in its own unique way.
Sellers plays Rev. John Smallwood, an Anglican prison chaplain accidentally assigned to the affluent community of Orbiston Parva. A sincere man of faith, Smallwood tries to drum up a little church fervor from his largely lapsed congregation, preaching the Gospel as Living Word rather than as aural wallpaper for weddings and funerals. Yet every earnest effort only stokes greater amounts of selfishness, even brutality.
"There aren't enough real Christians about to feed a decent lion," Smallwood laments.
At the same time, he must deal with the miserable quality of the clergy around him, like his own bosses in the Church of England hierarchy who strain only to keep their rich donor base happy and generous or the odd Pentecostal preacher who offers up damnation-filled sermons: "It's only the fires of hell that keep the churches warm."
"Heavens Above!" is a comedy of despair. If there is a God, it seems to say, He has better sense than to waste His time with blighted human riffraff like the Smiths, an itinerant family who leeches off Smallwood while feigning piety. Sellers is terrific, though in a largely straight performance, pulling us in with his naive gentility to the point where a lot of the gags turn painful when he is the butt of humor. The closest Sellers gets to laugh-getting - other than when Smallwood unknowingly snacks from a bowl of dog treats - is the opening, where he provides an uncredited voice-over as an American narrator introducing us to the uninspiring sight of Orbiston Parva. However much he stumbles and is tripped up, Smallwood is simply too nice a character to laugh at.
For all the apparent agnosticism in "Heavens Above", there's a strain of true religious belief in Smallwood's situation. Perhaps it's because the idea came from Malcolm Muggeridge, the last faith-friendly satirist England has produced. Smallwood is presented as a man of good works, but also doctrinal zeal. His scorn for the local pep-pill product "Tranquilax", it seems, is largely due to its proclaiming itself the "three-in-one restorative". For him, the only 3-in-1 restorative is the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost.
"Heavens Above!" is also interesting for the fact it catches Sellers just on the cusp of becoming an international star, still relatively round in body, making one of his last films aimed exclusively at his home British market. Like the later "Hoffman" and "Being There", this shows just how well Sellers could carry a film without resorting to silly accents or slapstick.
The film's directors, John and Roy Boulting, do well to set Sellers up with an ace supporting cast recognizable from other Sellers productions of the period, including George Woodbridge and Cecil Parker as a pair of agreeably venal curates; Irene Handl and Eric Sykes as Mr. and Mrs. Smith, heads of a scruffy, thieving clan; and Kenneth Griffith as the fire-and-brimstone preacher.
If only they cut that silly ending! There's other issues, too, like a penchant for slow camera zooms without reason, and the way the movie piles on Smallwood at the expense of comedy, but the out-of-left-field ending stings worst, an attempt at giving the film a falsely up note. Alas, when you really think about it, it only leaves Smallwood worse off than ever.
But you do care about the guy, a sign someone was doing something right. Obviously that includes Peter Sellers. With more laughs and a tighter ending, "Heavens Above!" would have ranked among his greatest films. As it is, it's pretty good all the same, food for thought in our secular times.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Owing to a clerical error, John Smallwood, a prison padre and
good-natured believer in goodwill to all men, is appointed vicar of the
conservative village of Orbiston Parva. Soon his wild ideas about being
nice to people and offering charity to the poor begin to cause both
commercial and political ructions ...
This is a lovely gentle satire on both the lapsed, self-serving attitude of middle England towards Christianity and the tenuous position of the torporific Church in the face of consumer culture. Sellers is excellent as Smallwood, whose simple faith in the merits of Christ's teachings - self-sacrifice, forgiveness, penitence - are at odds with a community which is too busy to go to Sunday Service, likes to evict layabouts and wants to build factories to attract business. Boulting and Frank Harvey's script is excellent, making its points subtly and effectively through character, but also with some witty gags (a train guard addresses a compartment full of clerics, saying, "Last supper, gentlemen."). The large cast all acquit themselves well, especially Sykes and Handl as a pair of spongers with an indeterminate number of children, Peters as a dustman-turned-church-warden, Miles as a quietly ruthless butler, and a very young Kinnear as an ex-convict. This is the film for those people who consider themselves religious and think the Church is a wonderful institution, but don't actually feel they need to go.
This film is great fun, well written and well acted. While the ending is unexpected, if you haven't seen it before, it is difficult to know how all the issues could've been resolved in any other way except as unresolved as it is here! They did the same thing to John Steed in the very last episode of The Avengers, appropriately titled "Bizarre", some six years later! That episode featured Roy Kinnear as the marvellously named Bagpipes Happychap who also features here amongst a wealth of famous faces including the original Doctor Who, William Hartnell, in the year that he took that role. Again, considering the ending, that too seems appropriate now and brought a wry smile to this viewer's face especially as another of the film's cast, Mark Eden, also appeared, in the title role of "Marco Polo", opposite Hartnell in that series!!! Peter Sellars is on fine form as the hopelessly idealistic new vicar as is Eric Sykes as a chain smoking butcher! Best of all is the plethora of verbal and visual irony which should be enough to keep any discerning viewer entertained!!!
This film made a big impression on me when I saw it 30 years ago on late night TV and am glad to say that it's finally available in an excellent DVD transfer. What "I'm All Right Jack" did for unions and management, "Heavens Above" does for clerics and laypeople. It's an honest film about how religious and secular people react to someone who, innocently, tries to act according to Christ's teachings and ends up turning society upside-down. Peter Sellers as the naif Rev. Smallwood turns in one of his most appealing performances. Plenty of hilarious supporting characters (Roy Kinnear, Ian Carmichael, Brock Peters, Bernard Miles) round out the cast. Only script weakness is the last 10 minutes...but we will forgive them charitably in gratitude for the 100 minutes before that!
Peter Sellers plays a minister with a new assignment in "Heavens
Above!" a 1963 film written by John Boulting and directed by John and
Roy Boulting. Sellers is the Rev. John Smallwood, and he's assigned to
a new parish from his current prison ministry by mistake when he's
confused with another Rev. Smallwood. He gets to the parish and really
shakes things up, so much so that he practically brings down the entire
British economy. He's well-meaning, but not very practical. He
convinces the wealthy woman in town, Lady Despard (Isabeal Jeans) to
give away food. Naturally the grocers are upset. Then he trashes the
product the big factory in town produces, and their stock crashes.
While he's at it, he takes in a huge family that was forced off of
The film makes fun of religion with a straight face. Smallwood tells Lady Despard that she won't go to heaven because she hasn't given up her earthly belongings and followed Christ. He preaches God to such an extent that when the Despard butler tells him off, he does it with two different Bible quotes - for me, that was the funniest scene in the movie.
The British economy suffered greatly after World War II, and there are many films about it. This is but one, taking its place with "The Man in the White Suit," "I'm All Right, Jack," and others.
Peter Sellers is amazing as Smallwood, modeling the character on a former teacher of his. He's a gentle man, not given to temper outbursts, who stands by his principles, even though he's a complete airhead.
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