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Stanley Windrush has to interrupt his university education when he is called up towards the end of the war. He quickly proves himself not to be officer material. This leads him to meets up with wily Private Cox who knows exactly how all the scams work in the confused world of the British Army. And Stanley's brigadier War Office uncle seems to be up to something more than a bit shady too. Written by
Jeremy Perkins <firstname.lastname@example.org>
PRIVATE'S PROGRESS, the first of the Boulting Brothers' series of satirical films - produced by themselves in association with British Lion - is a bit of a structural ragbag, with a comic look at army training followed by a dangerous (yet successful) mission to steal German art treasures.
Stanley Windrush (Ian Carmichael) is an upper-class twit studying at Oxbridge who is plucked from his safe life as undergraduate to serve as an officer in World War II. He proves totally incompetent in his army training, despite the best efforts of Sgt. Sutton (William Hartnell) to train him. He encounters a variety of colorful characters, notably Private Cox (Richard Attenborough) as well as Commanding Officer Hitchcock (Terry-Thomas) who is prone to describing his charges as an "absolute shower!" Having left camp without commission, Windrush is co-opted into a secret mission run by his uncle Bertram Tracepurcel (Dennis Price) that involves a trip to Germany. Disguised as a Nazi officer - although he knows no German - Windrush bumbles his way through the scheme, only to discover at length that its purpose was not what he first assumed.
PRIVATE'S PROGRESS follows a familiar path trodden by other Fifties service comedies, notably RELUCTANT HEROES (1951) and CARRY ON SERGEANT (1958) - with Hsrtnell appearing once more in the latter film as an exasperated sergeant. The Boulting Brothers seem intent on showing how many of those on active service during World War II were manifestly unsuited to the task; the fact that Britain actually emerged triumphant was almost in spite rather than due to their efforts. At the time the film was made Carmichael was gradually ascending to stardom; having played another bumbler in SIMON AND LAURA (1955), he was to repeat the same role in I'M ALL RIGHT JACK (1959). The Boultings surround him with a gallery of other incompetents, notably Terry-Thomas, Kenneth Griffith, Victor Maddern and Ian Bannen.
On the other hand the film makes some serious points about the levels of crime that took place during the war. Con-artists such as Tracepurcel and Cox flourished at that time, taking advantage of their secure jobs in the services to instigate a series of illegal operations. The fact that are both are found out at the end of the film has more to do with the prevailing codes of censorship at that time, rather than their own ineptitude. Spivs made a highly lucrative living during the Forties, and PRIVATE'S PROGRESS shows explicitly why that was the case.
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