Dodger Lane (Peter Sellers) has planned the perfect robbery while in prison. He intends to break out of prison, steal a fortune in diamonds, and break back into prison before anyone notices... See full summary »
The crooks in London know how it works. No one carries guns and no one resists the police. Then a new gang appears that go one better. They dress as police and steal from the crooks. This ... See full summary »
John Lewis is bored by his librarian's job and henpecked at home. Then Liz, wife of a local counciller, sets her sights on him. But this is risky stuff in a Welsh valleys town - if he and ... See full summary »
Accident-prone Fingers runs a pretty unsuccessful gang. They try and rob wealthy but tricky Billy Gordon - who distrusts banks and fears the Inland Revenue - but he sees Fingers and the ... See full summary »
Brenda de Banzie
The voiceover at the beginning is Peter Sellers. He also provided one of the voices heard on a television sequence. See more »
At the "British Space Centre" on the fictitious island of Ultima Thule, the corridor sign for the Computer Wing displays the legend "Computor Wing". It can be seen again seven minutes later. See more »
I remember Sir George used to say "Whenever you hears the Bible quoted, look out cos it's most likely the devil himself!"
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"Heavens Above!" is a barbed satire that cuts both ways, ridiculing organized religion for its complacence and its unrealistic aspirations and humanism regarding the perfectibility of man, especially the working-class kind. Though far from the funniest Peter Sellers comedy, it certainly is worthy in its own unique way.
Sellers plays Rev. John Smallwood, an Anglican prison chaplain accidentally assigned to the affluent community of Orbiston Parva. A sincere man of faith, Smallwood tries to drum up a little church fervor from his largely lapsed congregation, preaching the Gospel as Living Word rather than as aural wallpaper for weddings and funerals. Yet every earnest effort only stokes greater amounts of selfishness, even brutality.
"There aren't enough real Christians about to feed a decent lion," Smallwood laments.
At the same time, he must deal with the miserable quality of the clergy around him, like his own bosses in the Church of England hierarchy who strain only to keep their rich donor base happy and generous or the odd Pentecostal preacher who offers up damnation-filled sermons: "It's only the fires of hell that keep the churches warm."
"Heavens Above!" is a comedy of despair. If there is a God, it seems to say, He has better sense than to waste His time with blighted human riffraff like the Smiths, an itinerant family who leeches off Smallwood while feigning piety. Sellers is terrific, though in a largely straight performance, pulling us in with his naive gentility to the point where a lot of the gags turn painful when he is the butt of humor. The closest Sellers gets to laugh-getting - other than when Smallwood unknowingly snacks from a bowl of dog treats - is the opening, where he provides an uncredited voice-over as an American narrator introducing us to the uninspiring sight of Orbiston Parva. However much he stumbles and is tripped up, Smallwood is simply too nice a character to laugh at.
For all the apparent agnosticism in "Heavens Above", there's a strain of true religious belief in Smallwood's situation. Perhaps it's because the idea came from Malcolm Muggeridge, the last faith-friendly satirist England has produced. Smallwood is presented as a man of good works, but also doctrinal zeal. His scorn for the local pep-pill product "Tranquilax", it seems, is largely due to its proclaiming itself the "three-in-one restorative". For him, the only 3-in-1 restorative is the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost.
"Heavens Above!" is also interesting for the fact it catches Sellers just on the cusp of becoming an international star, still relatively round in body, making one of his last films aimed exclusively at his home British market. Like the later "Hoffman" and "Being There", this shows just how well Sellers could carry a film without resorting to silly accents or slapstick.
The film's directors, John and Roy Boulting, do well to set Sellers up with an ace supporting cast recognizable from other Sellers productions of the period, including George Woodbridge and Cecil Parker as a pair of agreeably venal curates; Irene Handl and Eric Sykes as Mr. and Mrs. Smith, heads of a scruffy, thieving clan; and Kenneth Griffith as the fire-and-brimstone preacher.
If only they cut that silly ending! There's other issues, too, like a penchant for slow camera zooms without reason, and the way the movie piles on Smallwood at the expense of comedy, but the out-of-left-field ending stings worst, an attempt at giving the film a falsely up note. Alas, when you really think about it, it only leaves Smallwood worse off than ever.
But you do care about the guy, a sign someone was doing something right. Obviously that includes Peter Sellers. With more laughs and a tighter ending, "Heavens Above!" would have ranked among his greatest films. As it is, it's pretty good all the same, food for thought in our secular times.
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