All at Sea (1957)
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Guinness purchases a run-down resort pier and strolls through the place, which is filled with bored pensioners watching cheap stage shows. The pier has been falling apart for decades, but he breathes new life into it by creating a dance hall and offering spirits. The local politicians have other ideas, and Guiness finds out that they have hoodwinked him and, through the rights of eminent domain, plan to purchase the pier back at half the price. He outwits them by registering the pier as a ship, enraging the politicians, and offers "cruises" for people prone to seasickness. It's a cruise that never goes anywhere, but offers food, dancing, music, and even a radar screen for the more mature folks. It's all very proper and charming. Guinness shows off his dance moves, there's a climax involving a dredging boat, and then a bouncy little song at the end accompanied by the ghosts of Guinness's ancestors (all played by him, of course); the song goes on just long enough to make you laugh like hell at the weirdness of it.
This might not be one of Guinness's best roles, but it's still a fun movie.
Not least among those films is this little opus, in which Guinness portrays an ex-naval officer who suffers from catastrophic mal-de-mer. Unable to go at sea but not wishing to be away from it, he assumes command of the only type of "vessel" he can endure, an amusement pier.
It is Guinness's characterization that makes this film work. The very fact that he plays Captain Ambrose absolutely straight is what makes the character so funny, including a wonderfully spot-on parody of Noel Coward's speech to his crew from "In Which We Serve": "An efficient pier is a happy pier". Of course, it is granted that audiences back in 1957 undoubtedly picked up on allusions such as that much more readily than audiences would today.
The film also features a running theme prevalent in many British comedies of that period, namely the individual overcoming big bureaucracy or big business. In this case, when the local town council threatens to close down his amusement pier, the imperturbable Captain Ambrose outwits them by means of the clever expedient of registering his pier as a ship, under a foreign flag of convenience. It's just the sort of solution one would expect from the inventive studio that brought audiences "Passport to Pimlico".
I understand this film was also released under an alternative title, "Barnacle Bill". However, under any title, it is a worthy addition to the seemingly limitless pantheon of characters portrayed by the remarkable Alec Guinness.
Alec Guinness plays Captain Ambrose, a naval officer from a long line of naval officers who is incurably seasick and cannot serve at sea (a series of clips show his ancestors - all played by Guinness - from a coracle-rowing caveman, to Trafalgar, to Jutland in 1916 - shades of 'Kind Hearts and Coronets'). At one point, to our surprise, we do see him on the storm-lashed bridge of a warship only for the camera to pull back to show a mock-up being sprayed by a man with a hosepipe - echoes of Charles Frend's 'The Cruel Sea' (there is even a brief clip of K49, HMS Compass Rose, from that film) .
To keep up the family tradition he uses his savings to buy a run-down seaside pier. He may be a martyr to seasickness but Ambrose is Navy through and through and with a combination of personality and discipline (giving speeches similar to Noel Coward from 'In Which We Serve') he gets the old place working again. When the corrupt local council try to buy him out at a rock-bottom price he goes the whole hog and registers the place as a ship offering 'cruises' to fellow seasickness sufferers.
'Barnacle Bill' follows the Ealing staple of the 'little man' up against vested interests but in this case the opposition is petty and mean-minded. England is changing, it has a new youth culture, but the changes can be exhilarating and should be embraced (Guinness dancing to a skiffle group is a highlight of the film). Ealing films have always been said to stand for traditional values and the good old British ways of doing things. 'Barnacle Bill' indicates a changing viewpoint - we have great traditions, but there are elements of narrow-mindedness and corruption which we can well do without.
As a footnote: Guinness's 'crew' on the pier include Percy Herbert and Harold Goodwin who would go on to help him build 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' for David Lean.
This very odd little movie is about a navy captain who comes from a long family line of sea captains. The problem is, he gets so deathly seasick that his career is spent ashore! Out of the blue, he becomes the owner of a seaside amusement pier and begins to envision it as his "ship". He talks as if it's a boat and runs it with naval efficiency as well. See the film--it's funny and very absorbing!
The story would have been well served if we could have seen a few positive effects upon the Town, when the Pier became a Ship. Just a few shots of people crowding into sad restaurants and seaside rooming houses, while they awaited a 'berth' on the Arabella, would have built much expectation and suspense. I bet that such scenes WERE filmed but later chopped, as there are several references to the Arabella bringing much business to the Town, but we never see that.
I cannot recall another movie like this, where drama, dialogue, and music cues are cut-off by disturbing "fades-outs" of sound and picture. But if the MGM idiots (who also dumped its entire warehouse/library into pits along a highway) had anything to do with this, one should not be surprised.
This captain truly hates the sea. Following in a naval tradition of his ancestors, one that was less than distinguished, Guinness gets his commission, but he is cursed by mal de mer. This captain cannot deal with sea duty, so he's given land based duty throughout the late war and is now retired.
But he's an enterprising soul and buys a rundown amusement pier in a seaside resort. Unfortunately some of the local politicians have plans for a Pacific coast type highway and they've slated the pier for demolition. The film is about Guinness's struggles against the local political machine.
Given that kind of plot I'm sure the film found favor on this side of the pond. Urban dwelling Americans would have known exactly what was going on. Barnacle Bill also compares with Jerry Lewis's film Don't Give Up The Ship where he too came from a less than distinguished naval family and Lewis has bits as several of his ancestors.
Barnacle Bill is not the best of Alec Guinness's Ealing comedies, but it's still lots of fun. In the end our land bound sailor finally does get to sea and he fights a naval engagement of sorts. You'l have to watch to see what I mean.
Captain Ambrose comes from a long line of sailors who had sketchy histories, but he himself can't get on the water because of seasickness.
After the war, he buys an amusement pier in a resort town, which the town council wants to tear down. However, he is too clever for them. He has it registered as a ship, thus making it impossible for them to get rid of it.
He is able to make the pier profitable and becomes friends with the woman (Irene Browne) who has rental huts on the beach that are about to become displaced by the grand plans of the council. And they haven't given up yet.
Amusing film with Alec Guinness playing Captain Ambrose -- and like most great actors, he does the part seriously, which makes it funnier. He carries the film as the other actors have small roles. Browne's is a little bigger and she is wonderful as first an enemy of the captain and then as a warm friend.
The final scenes are excellent, as Ambrose's heritage comes into play. Really fine film.
Guiness portrays a seasick former naval officer battling the greedy machinations of corrupt City Council members at an English seaside resort.
The twists in the plot are delicious fun, and I enjoy it's wry dialogue even more than other classic British comedies penned by the same screenwriter such as 'Lavender Hill Mob' and 'Passport to Pimlico', T. E. B. Clarke.
Notable in the cast are impeccable Irene Browne and a starlet by the name of Jackie Collins, who became a celebrity by writing novels set in Hollywood.
Please seek the DVD of this brilliant comedy performance by Guinness.
Guinness has multiple roles (as visions) while Irene Browne plays his ally in the fight against Denham and his cronies (principally Lionel Jeffries and Victor Maddern), with growing sympathy from members of the council who see his amusement park as a positive investment for tourism (Alan Cuthbertson, principally). Prolific Percy Herbert plays Guinness' faithful first mate, while Richard Wattis and Donald Pleasance have minor cameos.
Though it's probably one of Guinness' most obscure movies (there's a reference to a better known Guinness' 1950 film "The Mudlark"), it remains a capable comic farce, middle of the road comedy carrying most of the hallmarks that made Ealing the manufacturer synonymous with traditional British comedies in the 1950's.
What a disappointment. The jokes are lame, the plot is stupid. A stupid plot does not automatically make a film a failure of course (is there a plot-line sillier than Passport to Pimlico?) but this plot is un-funny stupid. And what I especially resented was the sight of stalwart actor/comedians like Lionel Jeffreys and Maurice Denham trying to do their best with this witless material.
If you've an ambition to watch every Ealing Comedy ever made, then look it up. There is no other reason to waste your time with it.