When the school burns to the ground there's clearly been some arson around. The pupils are found guilty and the judge hands them into the care of a pretty dubious child psychiatrist. The sixth form are soon kidnapped and on their way to Arabia with the Ministry of Education, Barchester police, and an Army Bath Unit after them. But real rescue is at hand in the shape of Britain's finest fighting force - St. Trinian's fourth form.Written by
When Cecil Parker and George Cole are standing at the door of the palace, they are on the right of the door and a short distance away. When Josef opens the door Cecil and George are on the left and standing close to the door. See more »
There's just something utterly magical about the first three St. Trinian's films. Almost every character in them is played by an actor recognisable from over fifty other British films of the time, and they frequently have the best cast lists of comic talent ever seen in a British comedy. Quite often a film with a cast this distinguished can turn out to be a grave disappointment (such a fate befell efforts like "The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins", in which most of the effort on the part of the film-makers seemed to have been in actually recruiting the actors, rather than giving them anything worthwhile to perform). However, "Pure Hell", like "Belles" and "Blue Murder" before it, has a script and a story good enough to support the weight of these amassed comedy greats, most of whom you'll probably never have heard of. They're usually actors who appeared in loads of films of the period, and you'd never have thought of making a film at the time without them, but who never became stars in their own right - chaps like Raymond Huntley and Nicholas Phipps (most memorable in "Doctor in Love" as the frankly spiffing Dr. Cardew). Those actors who, if you're a vintage comedy connoisseur like me, you'll see and then go "Ahhh, yes!"
As well as an admirable leading performance from Cecil Parker (taking over from Terry-Thomas in the last film as the guesting star), we have marvellous return appearances from the likes of Joyce Grenfell as Sergeant Ruby Gates, Lloyd Lamble as the superintendent who got engaged to her 16 years ago and still hasn't tied the knot (they almost achieve it, twice, in this film), Eric Barker as the civil servant Culpepper-Brown, Michael Ripper as the philosophical lift attendant, and, of course, George Cole as the best spiv in the business, Flash Harry. Quite why I think he's so class I don't know - I mean, he quite obviously *is* top notch, but I can't put my finger on why. He's just... hurrah! It's Flash! With his cockney lingo and jaunty theme music (yes, it's here again, punctuating most of his scenes and it never gets tiresome)!
We also have the likes of Thorley Walters (hurrah!), Dennis Price (double hurrah!) and John le Mesurier (HURRAH!) as various members of the civil service, and Raymond Huntley, Cyril Chamberlain, Nicholas Phipps and Sid James making random appearances (actually, the double act of Eric Barker and Thorley Walters is one of the continued highlights of this film), and even some scenes with perhaps the best comedy actress there ever was, Irene Handl (probably best known for having played Peter Sellers wife in "I'm All Right Jack). Irene always seems to play these "posh commoner" roles, with wonderful lines like "So what bit of culture are you going to have a bash at then?", effortlessly stealing most of the laughs in whatever scene she appears in.
That's another reason to love the film - genuine wit. Whilst a lot of comedies of the period tended to rely on farce and gurning and people falling over, such scenes are kept to a minimum here (and, furthermore, even when they do happen they're actually amusing), with witty lines and comments being brought to the fore instead. There's far too many to choose from, but my favourite probably has to be in a scene where Cecil Parker, George Cole and Joyce Grenfell are stuck in a boat in the middle of the ocean, sipping tea like the stiff-upper-lipped British citizens that they are. "Stranded in the middle of the ocean," Parker laments mournfully, "With only enough food and water to last us for... six months; two sugars please." Lines like this are delivered in a dry throwaway manner and just tickled me all the way through.
The plot in this is far more complicated than those of the other films in the series, with most of the action being focused on the civil servants and adult characters, as opposed to the schoolgirls themselves. But the rambling story, which at one point seems to have ten plot lines running and intertwining at once, takes on a wonderfully surreal quality which further adds to the majesty of it all. In one scene, Parker, Cole, Grenfell, Barker and Walters are stuck out in a desert market place sipping tea at a cafe, and Phipps and Chamberlain, British soldiers in disguise, sit down at the table next to them. Chamberlain leans back to Walters to try and give his identity.
CHAMBERLAIN: "Psst. I'm a-"
WALTERS: "No, sorry, I don't want any postcards thank you."
PHIPPS: "Well, what did he say?"
CHAMBERLAIN: "He said he didn't want any post cards."
PHIPPS: "Oh... You haven't got any have you?"
Oh, and as for the schoolgirls, though they don't appear that often (and when they do it's usually the fourth formers, played by child actors), there are a few "sixth formers" dotted about - the glamorous twenty-something year old actresses dressed in uniforms and the shortest skirts you're ever likely to see. The initial courtroom scene contains a slow pan up the most gorgeous of the lot, with her... legs, and everything, and my word, by jove, indeed. Ha ha.
It's a quaint British comedy and I'm feeling a trifle warm just thinking about. I should have taken the tablets.
The film does at times seem to be running out of steam, but there's usually another random plot twist to pull it back into shape. Though I probably still prefer "Blue Murder" for the sheer Terry-Thomas factor, "Pure Hell" is only slightly less marvellous, and stands up as a true comedy classic in its own right. Especially for dull 50s/60s comedy fans like me.
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