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Vittorio De Sica
A tontine is established for a dozen children, a tontine being a kind of bet/insurance, money is put in for each to grow with interest and the last survivor is to get the lot. We watch the group dwindle until only two brothers are left. One brother is watched by his nephews who will keep him alive at all costs, the other lives in ill health and poverty as the only support of his fairly stupid grandson. Statues and bodies are switched, in the wrong boxes until everyone is sure someone has died. Now if they can only make it seem as if the other brother died first, hundreds of thousands of pounds (in Victorian England when a pound was a pound) will be theirs. Written by
John Vogel <email@example.com>
The quiet little black comedy "The Wrong Box" has a superb cast. Veteran British stage/cinema actors (Ralph Richardson, John Mills, Wilfred Lawson) play with rising stars (Michael Caine, just off "Alfie", and Peter Cook & Dudley Moore from the groundbreaking "Beyond the Fringe" revue). Established comic actors (Peter Sellers, Tony Hancock) give performances that carefully-polished little gems. Even the tiniest "blink and you'll miss 'em" roles are loaded with familiar character actors (Cicely Courtneidge, John Le Mesurier, Thorley Walters &c) rubbing elbows with rising talents (Jeremy Lloyd, James Villiers, Leonard Rossiter, Graham Stark) making the movie a veritable field day for spotters of British humor. The performances in the major roles are all solid. Some of the smaller parts have variable performances: Thorley Walters is delightful, Courtneidge, too overbearing). All the actors seem to realize that they must take this sort of comedy seriously -- mugging kills this sort of humor. The leads (Richardson, Mills, Cook, Moore, Caine, Lawson) are all suitably earnest. Only Nanette Newman (the director's wife) doesn't seem quite up to her part, being a better actress in modern dress; but she's quite pretty enough and she's good enough not to be utterly lost even in this ensemble of extremely talented actors.
The humor is quiet, with a Victorian hush over the proceedings, lending a (perhaps tongue in cheek) funereal respect to its theme of death with laughter. The gentle pace picks up near the end with a chase with hearses and beer wagons, and a climax that gathers all the principles in a cemetery in a satisfying conclusion.
The witty script is filled with little bits that might not register at first (such as the pulse bit, or "Can you speak a little lower" and the peculiar words "unnecessarily mutilated"). Some of the sight gags go askew, but enough of them work to make them worth while. It's not a movie for every taste. Anglophiles and those who appreciate an easy-going humor may find it work a peek. Anyone who loves Peter Sellers has to see his Pratt.
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