Charley's (Big-Hearted) Aunt (1940) Poster

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A silly reworking of the old story.
MartinHafer22 March 2012
I was surprised when I looked on IMDb to see how many versions there are listed of this story. There are TONS--and in many different languages--all beginning in 1915. However, the story predates this, as it was a VERY successful London play in the 1890s--with over 1400 performances! Because of this, there's a very good change you've seen one of these versions or films that seem to have been influenced by "Charley's Aunt" (such as "Tootsie" or "Some Like it Hot").

Moore Marriott and Graham Moffatt were most often seen in films supporting Will Hay. However, after quite a few successful films together, the pair began working with Arthur Askey--another very successful film comedian. Moffat and Richard Murdock are students at Oxford--though how these boobs got into the school is beyond me. The three are constantly in trouble and sooner or later, they're bound to be 'sent down' (that's British for 'expelled'). So, when they finally have pushed too far, the dean sends a letter to their aunt to report their indiscretions. However, the letter is intercepted by Askey and he is persuaded to impersonate the aunt--and try to charm the school officials out of the expulsion. In a twist from the original story, it seems that Askey had learned how to play a woman (badly) by playing the lead in the school production of "Charley's Aunt". In other words, it's like a play within a play. I could tell you more about what happens next, but it's best you just see it for yourself.

This is a pretty typical Askey film. Pleasant and silly, but certainly not brilliant or a must-see movie. It's funny, but my wife had no idea what I was watching but when she came in the room she saw Askey in drag and said "who's that guy". And, if it's THAT obvious to the viewer, perhaps they didn't do the best job in the film.
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Watch Jack Benny's version instead!
JohnHowardReid5 September 2017
Warning: Spoilers
A Gainsborough Picture, made at Shepherd's Bush Studios. Not copyrighted or theatrically released in the U.S.A. U.K. release through General Film Distributors: 2 September 1940. U.K. trade show: 16 April 1940. No Australian theatrical release. Mr. Forde's services by courtesy of Associated Talking Pictures Ltd. 76 minutes.

SYNOPSIS: Undergraduates attempt to avoid being sent down from Oxford by taking a leaf out of "Charley's Aunt".

NOTES: This seems to be the only British version of the Thomas play which opened at the Royalty Theatre, London, on 21 December 1892 and ran 1,466 performances. Despite the play's enormous popularity on the English repertory circuit, all other movie versions are American: Sydney Chaplin starred in a silent for the Christie Film Company in 1925. Christie re-made the film in 1930, starring Charles Ruggles. In 1941, Fox produced "Charley's American Aunt" (as it was called in Great Britain) starring Jack Benny; and in 1952 Warner Bros came up with "Where's Charley" with Ray Bolger.

COMMENT: Well, playmates, it was a long time to wait — over fifty years — but was the wait worth it? (This version was finally shown in Australia, on national TV, on 16 July 1994. It was never released to Australian cinemas, because the local exchange, 20th Century-Fox, had no desire to undermine the box-office of their own Jack Benny movie). The answer is a very qualified yes. It was good to see the film at last, but it is only mildly amusing at best, and well below the standard of Askey's other work of this period, such as "The Ghost Train" and "Back Room Boy".

However it could have been even more bland. All the players try extremely hard to infuse the somewhat dated proceedings with mirth. (I mean the movie is still dated, despite the fact that the play itself is regarded as a period piece. Who could accept the 40-year- old Askey as an Oxford undergrad, and who but the most purblind idiot would be fooled for a second by his obvious impersonation?).

I could go through the entire cast list and single out each performer for praise. Phyllis Calvert looks very attractive here, whilst J.H. Roberts is wonderfully patronizing as a dean with an interest in Egyptology. Incidentally, unless my ears deceive me, I thought Miss Calvert's name in the film was Peggy, not Betty, that Bargate is pronounced Bogate, and that Wally Patch plays an assistant proctor named Pryce.

This movie has been produced on a grand scale, with big sets and lots of extras milling about. Technical credits are likewise impressive. It's a shame that all this expenditure of money and talent has not metamorphosed into an entertainment offering at least the equal of the Jack Benny vehicle which, being a much more straightforward adaptation, would seem to have many more handicaps to overcome.

Here on the other hand, we have a free-ranging script, plus players and a director well suited to their material, but the result, whilst very moderately funny, is outclassed by a competitor who started well down the field. Or to use another sporting metaphor, it's a case of the British being beaten by the Americans at cricket — and on their home turf too!

I don't know why Fox were so anxious to protect Benny and not simply let audiences decide who was the better aunt. I have no doubt Benny would have won that box-office contest hands down.
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"Aunts In Their Paunts"
Spondonman11 September 2005
I've never been a drag fan, I enjoyed Danny La Rue's turns on the Good Old Days on TV when I was a kid for the songs I suppose, but the humour and enjoyment in cross-dressing has always been a mystery to me. Ergo I don't have many such films in my collection. Having said that Arthur Askey looked pretty convincing as an old and rather plain Auntie, more so than either he or Richard Murdoch looked as "young" Oxford students. Although Graham Moffat almost got away with it and Moore Marriott as the venerable caretaker certainly did!

As a result of heinous crimes against the University that would get them admiring kudos and Awards nowadays Askey/Murdoch/Moffat face expulsion. To escape this Askey pretends his rich Auntie is keen to finance an archaeological expedition to Egypt (a subject very close to the headmaster's heart) but later has to impersonate her. Farcical confusion is the result of the deception. Watch out for that 5,000 year old vase!

A good cast with some good lines, good situations; shame that Wally Patch only showed in the first reel; I almost felt sorry for schoolmaster Felix Aylmer floundering in the Isis; Phyllis Calvert never looked more decorative; but overall not among the best Askey vehicles. I think all it really needed was a bit more witty repartee between Big and Stinker inserted into the plot, not only to pad the running time out but for a few laughs not associated with cross-dressing for the likes of me! But for anyone who sits through the entire 72 minutes not liking it: don't you ever feel a little foolish for having wasted your time?
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Hilarious High Spirits in Drag
movingpicturegal5 January 2007
Very amusing comedy about an Oxford student who, on a week's probation for drunken school hijinks, decides to go ahead and perform in Oxford's production of "Charley's Aunt" hoping the female costume will hide him. Well, it doesn't - caught, he and his two roommates, accused of having a "long list of delinquencies", are about to be expelled from school. But our man gets the idea of disguising himself as "Aunt Lucy", in hopes of tricking the school dean into keeping them on by telling him the Aunt is devoted to putting money into expeditions to Egypt (the dean's pet hobby). Dressed in drag (and looking a lot like Dustin Hoffman in "Tootsie"), he arrives at Oxford and proceeds to fool all the old boys.

This film is highly amusing and fun to watch, particularly the segments with actor Arthur Askey in drag as the Aunt - he is just great in this, absolutely hilarious. Okay, yes a couple of the actors look a bit long in the tooth to actually be realistic as Oxford students - but I actually found that bit to be part of what makes this film funny. I also really enjoy the camaraderie seen between the actors here, who all appear to be having a lot of fun with this. An enjoyable and humorous film.
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Old English fossil
vandino16 January 2007
This English farce is actually titled 'Charley's (Big-Hearted) Aunt' and Richard Murdoch is credited with '(Stinker)' in the middle of his name. It also stars Arthur Askey, a long-forgotten English entertainer, whose talents on display here certainly do not rate a revival. There's a nice attempt at using 'Charley's Aunt' as almost a play-within-a-play, but the efforts, however pleasant and frantic, are quite predictable and ultimately tiresome. Cute at the time, perhaps, but a dry fossil for today's audience. Even though it's only meant as a silly comedy, it's still bizarre to feature the virtually middle-aged Askey as an Oxford undergraduate. A professor, yes; a student, quite absurd. At least Graham Moffatt is, and looks, the age of a student, but that makes Askey's casting even more off-putting (incidentally, Moffatt plays a character named Albert which for some odd reason is the same character name he goes by in most of the films he ever made). Also odd is that the woman character Askey is supposed to be duplicating in drag looks nothing like her (and Felix Aylmer's character once dated the real woman yet doesn't seem to question the ugly homunculus version that Askey creates... then doesn't recognize the well-kept real version when she shows up). In fact, Askey barely bothers to even alter his masculine voice during the masquerade, inviting even more skepticism of both the charade and Askey's performance. But it is done with a light enough sense of humor that it toddles along amiably, all clichés intact, with laughs for those easily amused by another English music hall performer donning woman's clothing.
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One of the funniest films I've ever seen
calvertfan13 September 2002
To appreciate the humour of Charley's Big-Hearted Aunt, I suppose you have to be an Askey fan, and used to his types of jokes - for example, plenty of dress-ups! I found this to be one of the funniest Askey comedies I have ever seen. And it was lovely to see Phyllis Calvert in an early role, before she became typecast as the perennial Lady. Here she was perfect as a young college student - a real goody-goody at times, and as cheeky as the boys at others. I'd recommend anyone who's a fan of either (or both), or who's just after an easy laugh, to give this a go. There's some real laugh out loud and "oh no!" moments and the whole thing works wonderfully well. 10/10
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Classic humour for enthusiasts only
hazelfreeman24 August 2001
Developing the identity mix-ups of the original Charley's Aunt stage play, this film provides a vehicle for several British pre-war comedy performances.

Arthur Askey is in the key role, supported by Richard (Stinker) Murdoch, and Graham Moffat and Moore Marriott (both better known as support for Will Hay, and in this film respectively 21 and 55 years old, can you believe that?) and Felix Aylmer. The rate of change of humour was pretty slow in those days and every one of them seems to us now to be playing parodies of themselves, but it was cutting edge stuff during the second year of WW2.

Askey (40 when the film was released) plays a fun-loving Oxford University undergraduate. Having played Charley's Aunt in drag on stage in a play within the film, he has to play a female drag role more seriously to avoid expulsion for him and his friends for a disciplinary offence.

Seriously intricate situations arise, including his being taken into the women's changing rooms at an athletic club; in 1940 there was little bare flesh on view but the scene was still daring. Shortly afterwards, the lady whom he is impersonating turns up, and things rapidly degenerate.

Foolish nonsense that hasn't stood the test of time too well, but good archive material for the enthusiast.
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