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"A Jolly Bad Fellow" follows the exploits of a cynical middle-aged don (Leo McKern) at an Oxbridge-like university. A scientist, with a cold-bloodedly rationalist outlook, he is at odds with his other dons, a collection of fusty classicists who view him as an interloper. An accidental discovery by his dim-witted lab assistant (Dinsdale Landen) provides him with the means to neutralise those who stand in the way of the academic preferment he seeks. His long-suffering but loving wife (Maxine Audley) tries to overlook his philanderings, not least his liaison with a pretty young female research assistant (Janet Munro).
The film is a curious hybrid. Made at the very start of the swinging 60s, it is nevertheless reminiscent of the earlier Ealing films, of which it is a late example, not least "Kind Hearts and Coronets". There are, however, fleeting contemporary references (to Cliff Richard - a few months later it would have been The Beatles), and Janet Munro, in an adulterous seaside assignation, looks every inch the proto-dolly bird as she strolls along the sea-front, arm-in-arm with her ageing lover.
With a distinguished supporting cast that includes Dennis Price (as an especially pompous fellow academic), "A Jolly Bad Fellow" is at once an amusing and disturbing black comedy. Fans of John Barry will enjoy the superb soundtrack, featuring Alan Haven on organ, which stylistically prefigures that of "The Knack".
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