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The Happiest Days Of Your Life is based on the John Dighton play from 1948, with Dighton writing the part of Headmistress Whitchurch specifically for Margaret Rutherford. Replacing George Howe from the play in the role of Headmaster Pond, is Alastair Sim, and herein lies the crowning glory of this filmic adaptation, Sim & Rutherford are perfectly wonderful, bouncing off each other to keep what is basically a one joke movie, highly entertaining. Directed by the gifted Frank Launder, and produced by the equally adroit Sidney Gilliat, The Happiest Days Of Your Life is a quintessentially British movie, obviously a precursor to the St Trinians franchise, the film entertains the children with it's high jinks clash of the sexes heart, whilst tickling the watching adults with its very saucy undercurrent. Thankfully the chaotic ending cements all that has gone before it to leave this particular viewer with a grin as wide as Nutbourne Rail Station. Great fun. 8/10
All interior shots took place at Riverside studios in Hammersmith, London. The exterior scenes were filmed on location at a public girl's school near Liss in Hampshire. During the 12 - week shoot both Margaret Rutherford and Joyce Grenfell were staying in a hotel nearby and would often visit the school during the evenings where they would happily enjoy the company of the real school mistresses.
Although the film's script contains only two original lines from the original play the leads and supporting actors are in fine form and you can only feel sympathetic for their predicament especially in the final scenes.
No Rutherford/Sim/Grenfell fan would be without this in their collection. Absolutely brilliant. Why 9/10? Only 83mins long.
Where to start? Alastair Sim-peerless; Margaret Rutherford-ditto;the wonderfully alkward, innocent Gossage, played to perfection by the imperious Joyce Grenfell. The caddish Victor Hyde-Brown (a Guy Middleton special) and the rest of the staff sum up post-war middle-class England to a tee.
The humour is sometimes obvious, but it is of that special "Ealing" variety and is never offensive.
I have watched this film more times than I care to remember and still laugh like a drain at the antics every time. The storming of the dorms occupied by the girls school, the magnificently-planned but ultimately doomed twin tours of the school and the chaotic ending involving the arrival of a third school to add to the anarchy, are priceless.
It's an old cliché I know, but they really do not make them like that anymore. How I wish they did. If you haven't seen it, please do, you won't be disappointed.
This fifty year old comedy wears well. The pace is frantic, like a French farce with doors opening and closing and much dashing along corridors with split second timing as the two groups try to avoid each other. Magaret Rutherford and Alistair Sim ham it up superbly and there are many familiar faces in the supporting cast, all of whom react with great professionalism. At ninety minutes the film doesn't out stay it's welcome, and there's even time for a little romance that doesn't slow up the action one bit. Incidentally I had forgotten how sexy the gym outfits of English schoolgirls of that period were. It bought back memories.
Yes, a terrible mistake has been made by the Ministry of Education. Nutbourne is a school for boys. St. Swithen's is a school for girls. And what makes this one of the best post-WWII British comedies, Nutbourne's head master is Wetherby Pond...played by Alastair Sim, while St. Swithen's head mistress is Muriel Whitchurch...played by Margaret Rutherford.
"St. Swithen's?" says Pond. "You don't mean to say that yours is a school for boys and girls?" he asks one of the early girls. "Only girls" she says cheerfully. "Does this mean, sir," asks one of Nutbourne's teachers, "that we are to expect 100 young girls?" "It means that not only have the ministry made a mistake in sending a school here at all, but that it is guilty of an appalling sexual aberration!"
Margaret Rutherford's Miss Whitchurch, as positive and immovable as a battleship, intends to make the best of it, by briskly taking over Nutbourne if possible. Alastair Sim's Pond is exasperated up to his big bald head and is determined to salvage his school. In the meantime, there are 100 young girls and 170 young boys to be fed and places found for them to sleep (along with all their teachers). The cooks and caretakers, totally put upon, walk out. Miss Whitchurch and her girls, however, are up to the cooking tasks. "Come now, Angela," she says to one girl who is trying to stir something in a big pot, "haven't you made porridge before?" "Yes, but no one ever had to eat it." "That's a defeatist attitude, my dear. Stir it well and don't shilly shally."
Things are hardly going well when Pond discovers four governors from a school he hopes to lead are arriving at any moment to see for themselves how well led Nutbourne is. And Miss Whitchurch learns that four wealthy and influential parents have just arrived to see how their daughters are doing in the new -- boy free, they were told -- facilities. The only solution? Miss Whitchurch and Pond, their teachers and their students, concoct a split-second shifting of classes to give the allusion that Nutbourne has no girls and that St. Swithen's has no boys. After the parents inspect a dorm and leave for a class, the girls in the beds duck under and the boys who'd been hidden under leap up into the beds, just as the governors walk in. The boys are observed at rugby and, as soon as the governors turn their backs, the goal posts are taken down, nets for lacrosse are put up, and just then the parents walk over to observes the girls. One parent spots her daughter in a science class, then moments later sees her in a choir practice, then moments later.... "There's Angela again," she says to Miss Whitchurch. "Why so it is," she replies, hustling the parents out to avoid the governors who are approaching just around the corner. "The child's quite ubiquitous."
When we leave Nutbourne, everything has been discovered. The students are milling about. The teachers are dazed (except for two who are kissing.) The Education Ministry has just sent several more busloads of students. The parents are speechless but the governors are not. "We're waiting for an explanation," one says sharply. Pond holds his head and shudders. "Can't you see I'm trying to think of one."
The film moves from one complicated and ridiculous situation after another, braced by a very funny script and two hugely comedic performances by Rutherford and Sim. Sim's droll exasperation and Rutherford's implacable determination are so well matched that's it's a shame this is the only movie they ever made together. Joyce Grenfell, as Gossage, St. Swithen's tall, awkward, loping sports teacher gives them some competition. If you keep your eyes open, you'll also find some amusing references director Frank Launder works in, including a gong at Nutbourne that looks just like a midget version of J. Arthur Rank's, a faint echo of the zither theme from The Third Man and a shot stolen from David Lean's Oliver Twist, except this time the little boy walks up holding his porridge bowl and says, "Please, sir. I don't want anymore."
Frank Launder and his partner, Sidney Gilliat, were responsible for some of the best films produced in Britain during the Thirties, Forties and Fifties. They wrote, produced and directed, sometimes doing one, sometimes the other. In one way or another they were responsible for such first-rate films as Green for Danger (with a masterly droll performance by Sim), I See a Dark Stranger, The Lady Vanishes, Night Train to Munich, Wee Geordie, The Belles of St. Trinian's, The Rake's Progress and many others. With The Happiest Days of Your Life, Launder wrote and directed while both produced. It's one of their best.
Boys school run by Sim and his band of bachelors is physically invaded by girls school run by Rutherford and her set of spinsters thanks a series of lackadaisical mistakes at the Ministry Of Inboxes (still in existence) and they all have to try and make do and mend. The main comedy is in adjusting to the novelty of the situation and trying to maintain the pretence that there was only one school in the building to the various visitors to both schools descending at the same time. Sly jokes fall thick and fast delivered by an expert slapstick cast, sardonic Richard Wattis – who went on later to Trinians and Sykes, ladykiller Guy Middleton, fluffy Arthur Howard – who went on to Jimmy Edwards' Whack-O as Mr Pettigrew, and flighty Joyce Grenfell. But it's the sparking, the verbal sparring of Sim and Rutherford in every scene they're in that's so wonderful to behold and is the big reason for watching the film.
The time has now gone, the Britain this shows was murdered decades ago. For instance we now live in a world where the two Guard Thine Honour jokes in here will be meaningless to most or if understood probably treated with contempt by most of the rest. But recommended by this simple guy for a laugh and a sigh.
Sim is wonderful as Weatherby Pond, the headmaster Nutbourne College, as is Margaret Rutherford as his counterpart Miss Whitchurch, a role written specifically for her. Their timing and chemistry is marvelous. Both are absolute perfect in the roles. Incidentally, Rutherford was supposed to play Miss Fritton in "The Belles of St. Trinian's" but she could not do so because of other commitments and Sim was cast in the role in her absence. Their characters work so well because of the contrast between them: while a kind headmaster, Pond is extremely concerned with discipline and order and, as such, is not too happy with the arrival of 100 girls and the resulting disruption caused to his school - not least because he is up for another job! - while Miss Whitchurch is a non-traditionalist who takes over Nutbourne College with nary a thought about the inconvenience caused to Pond. She even takes over his office and bedroom. They do eventually warm to each other though!
I've always loved his performances but I've become a huge fan of Alastair Sim after watching him in three films in quick succession. He's one of those fantastic actors who makes it all look so easy but probably worked harder than anyone at his craft. As is to be expected from a former elocution lecturer at the University of Edinburgh (my alma mater!), he has beautiful diction.
While Sim and Rutherford certainly have the lion's share of the best scenes and lines, it has a strong supporting cast including Grenfell (who is excellent as the well meaning overgrown schoolgirl and games mistress Miss Gossage), Wattis and Laurence Naismith. However, I have to give special mention to Edward Rigby, who is brilliant as Nutbourne's put-upon, 70-year-old caretaker and general dogsbody Rainbow. It's a shame that he died in 1951 as he would have been a great asset to the "St. Trinian's" films.
Thoroughly entertaining but at least fifteen minutes, probably half an hour too short. For me, it ended shockingly quickly.
The attempt by Alistair Sim and Margaret Rutherford as joint heads of a boys and girls school, thrown together by an incompetent bureaucracy, to hoodwink parents and school inspectors comes to such a sharp stop that I can't help thinking that some over-drastic pruning was at work here.
Nothing illustrates the British class system than educational opportunity and it is on exhibition here during the final year of the first British post-war Labour government.
I suppose you could say that the Saint Trinian's series was a sort of sequel but, however funny that was, it was devoid of the subtlety of social commentary that this film was. However, someone obviously noted the potential of Joyce Grenfall and cast her in that series. Alistair Sim also, in the first such film.
However to me the plot of the film has always contained one enormous fault. Much as Pond and Miss Whitchurch dislike each other, they become allies in the effectively impossible task of convincing his governors and her group of parents that only one school is occupying the premises. Why? The fault is not theirs, it is that of the Ministry of Education for wrongly allotting a girls' school to a boys' school. Pond and Miss Whitchurch are the innocent victims of an incompetent bureaucracy and could simply have told their visitors as much. If anything there might well have been some kudos for both in dealing in as able a way as possible with a situation not of their making.
Of course if they had done so there would not have been much of a film and despite the weakness of the McGuffin the beautifully filmed efforts to replace girls with boys and vice versa at exactly the right moment are a joy. As is the performance of Richard Wattis for once not playing a stuffy bank manager/civil servant.
As others have said, if you've never seen this film, please do so. But preferably not on television in the States.
Starring Alastair Sim and Margaret Rutherford
Screenplay by Frank Launder and John Dighton
Directed by Frank Launder
For an old movie this is a fun runaround.
It's short and witty and a great way to pass just over an hour of your time. It's silly and easy to watch and passes really quickly so that says something about it.
If you fancy a laugh without too much of a plot headache, give it a shot.
Watching it, 'The Happiest Days of Your Life' proved to be every bit as great as hoped and more. Actually one of the best and funniest films seen recently (school culture and life has seldom being more observantly, slyly, charmingly or hilariously depicted), and as over the top as it sounds to some that is not an exaggeration. Of my recent viewings, there has been a mix of brilliant, great, very good, good, decent, average, mediocre and terrible (so basically hit and miss), 'The Happiest Days of Your Life' really stood out and in a brilliant way. It deserves every ounce of the praise given to it, yet to me it is actually deserving to be given more credit and exposure.
Both Sim and Rutherford are on top form, with comic timing so expertly and knowing that most would only wish of having. Rutherford especially is superb and shares a dream of a chemistry with Sim, as they bounce off each other in a way that is never less than edge-of-the-seat riveting. They and their chemistry are what makes this film and one does wish that they were in more films together. That does not mean that the rest of the cast should be overlooked, because Joyce Grenfell is particularly splendidly dotty and the support from Guy Middleton and Richard Wattis sparkles.
Also sparkling is one of the wittiest, most beautifully structured and funniest scripts in the history of British comedy from personal opinion, one chock-full of sophistication and hilarious lines that the laughter is practically non-stop and not once does it feel stale or lose momentum. On top of being that entertaining, the increasingly frenetic antics never become confusing or overplayed, things may get a little chaotic at the end but that was clearly the intent and it was fun to watch.
The story is slight and simple but there is not an air of contrivance or over-predictability, and everything feels cohesive. It's directed with verve and class by Frank Launder, it moves at a lively pace meaning that the short length doesn't ever feel long and it's pleasing visually without being stage-bound.
Overall, a wonderful film that made me happy. As one can guess the main reasons to watch it are Sim, Rutherford and the script. 10/10 Bethany Cox