Heavens Above! (1963) Poster

User Reviews

Review this title
23 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
One of Sellers' best films is all but forgotten today
MartinHafer12 November 2006
This was a marvelous little comedy that in many ways is reminiscent of the great Alec Guinness film, THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT. Like this other film, the movie's main theme is unintended consequences that arise from some selfless and altruistic acts of the leads.

Peter Sellers plays a rather "straight" role as a well-meaning and decent Anglican minister. Unlike Inspector Clouseau and Dr. Strangelove, this character is much more subtle and believable. He didn't play the part strictly for laughs but was more of a characterization. Sellers was a truly gifted and amazing man in how he could seemingly become the people he was playing. His gentle manner and working-class accent worked perfectly to create one of the nicest and sincere priests in film history.

The movie is exceptional in that I think the movie can be enjoyed by religious and non-religious people alike. The film is very cynical and explores human nature in such a way that everyone can take something profound from the film. It is also unusual in that while technically a comedy, it is also serious social commentary. It had a lot to say about the teachings of Jesus and just how impossible it would be to truly implement them in a basically selfish world! Aside from a bad word used here or there, none of this should put off by the film. It isn't heavy-handed or preachy and isn't meant to offend organized religion.

The only reason the film only merits an 8 is because the ending is a bit of a let-down. It really didn't make much sense and was impossible to believe and because of this it really blunted the overall effect of the movie.
28 out of 28 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Class British Comedy
no-skyline12 August 2005
This is one of the classic British comedies of the 1960's Peter Sellers is superb as the Rev Smallwood a socialist priest mistakenly sent to an upper-crust English village. Eric Sykes and Cecil Parker excel in their roles, Sykes as the lay about, work dodging Smith and Parker as the holier than thou archdeacon. Irene Handle and Ian Carmicheal also make appearances in this film in their typical roles played to perfection.

This film is a satire (with elements of farce) on British society particularly the class system as well as religions role in it. The character are typically English and all show their true nature as the Rev Smallwood bumbles his way into a media frenzy without really knowing it.

All in all if you like British comedy this film is a must see but if you haven't lived in the U.K some of the lines and issues may be lost on you.

A classic up there with the likes of The Ladykillers and Lavender Hill Mob as the cream of British Comedy. 8/10
23 out of 25 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Gospel According to Sellers
daddytolman26 January 2008
"Heaven's Above!" is a wonderful, well-crafted satire that mocks not Christianity but hypocritical and cold "religious" people. It is a British version of "In His Steps" turned on its head and inside-out: what if a sincere believer (Sellers) attempts to live out the gospel in the middle of a spiritually dead English parish? Unchristian attitudes range from the Bishop who complains that Rev. Smallwood (Sellers) "keeps bringing God into everything," to two women arguing over free food they have just (undeservedly) received as handouts telling a black man (Brock Peters) "You don't belong here" under a banner that reads "Love one another."

The script is rife with topical political and social comments but the real focus is timeless: do people really believe what they say they believe? Is there a place for Christianity in a secular, materialistic society? The ending, which baffles some, gives the answer to this. All serious questions aside, "Heaven's above!" is a satirical, incisive look at human nature.
22 out of 24 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Tough-Minded Religious Satire
Bill Slocum7 May 2009
"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.
10 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Funny film, silly ending
Adrian Bailey7 July 2003
Peter Sellers is great as the Brummie vicar whose gaucheness brings a small country town to its knees in this famous 60s satire. It's difficult to pin down the film's target; perhaps the film's so likeable because it seems to get a dig in at everybody at the same time. Among the targets are: religion, capitalism, communism, and British society and mores. The moral of the tale seems to be that no matter your efforts or intentions, you're unlikely to improve on the status quo (and could make things a lot worse). So in the last analysis maybe it's Conservative propaganda.

The film stomps merrily through all the issues with fun effect and should've quit when it was ahead. The final segment is crass and takes off some of the shine.
19 out of 23 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Great fun with an abundance of acting talent!
Stargazer595 February 2005
This film is great fun, well written and well acted. While the ending is unexpected, if you haven't seen it before, it is difficult to know how all the issues could've been resolved in any other way except as unresolved as it is here! They did the same thing to John Steed in the very last episode of The Avengers, appropriately titled "Bizarre", some six years later! That episode featured Roy Kinnear as the marvellously named Bagpipes Happychap who also features here amongst a wealth of famous faces including the original Doctor Who, William Hartnell, in the year that he took that role. Again, considering the ending, that too seems appropriate now and brought a wry smile to this viewer's face especially as another of the film's cast, Mark Eden, also appeared, in the title role of "Marco Polo", opposite Hartnell in that series!!! Peter Sellars is on fine form as the hopelessly idealistic new vicar as is Eric Sykes as a chain smoking butcher! Best of all is the plethora of verbal and visual irony which should be enough to keep any discerning viewer entertained!!!
10 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Flawed but lovely satire
ella-488 February 2007
I shan't go on at any length, as others have already done the job for me. Instead I'll just drop in a couple of interesting factoids about this film.

1) "Heavens Above!" was the third in a trio (a triptych??) of films satirising great pillars of the British establishment:

The military;

Industry/the trade unions;

The church.

The previous two in the series were "Private's Progress" (Ian Carmichael as Stanley Windrush - a fraightfully posh chinless wonder, drafted into the army for WWII and finding himself embroiled unwittingly in a grand scheme to steal great works of art) and "I'm Alright, Jack" (Carmichael as the same Stanley Windrush, now de-mobbed and dumped by his despairing family into the shop floor workforce at one of their factories, in the hope that he might learn the business). The Windrush family characters were dropped for Heavens Above, although Carmichael makes a small appearance as "the other Vicar called Smallwood".

2) Fans of the Small Faces should keep their eyes peeled for 'Jack' - eldest son of the huge family of itinerant scroungers who take up residence in the vicarage. It's none other than cheeky cockney mudlark STEVE MARRIOTT, fresh from his West End stint as The Artful Dodger in Oliver !
12 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Delightful And Witty Satire On British Religious Attitudes
ShootingShark12 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Owing to a clerical error, John Smallwood, a prison padre and good-natured believer in goodwill to all men, is appointed vicar of the conservative village of Orbiston Parva. Soon his wild ideas about being nice to people and offering charity to the poor begin to cause both commercial and political ructions ...

This is a lovely gentle satire on both the lapsed, self-serving attitude of middle England towards Christianity and the tenuous position of the torporific Church in the face of consumer culture. Sellers is excellent as Smallwood, whose simple faith in the merits of Christ's teachings - self-sacrifice, forgiveness, penitence - are at odds with a community which is too busy to go to Sunday Service, likes to evict layabouts and wants to build factories to attract business. Boulting and Frank Harvey's script is excellent, making its points subtly and effectively through character, but also with some witty gags (a train guard addresses a compartment full of clerics, saying, "Last supper, gentlemen."). The large cast all acquit themselves well, especially Sykes and Handl as a pair of spongers with an indeterminate number of children, Peters as a dustman-turned-church-warden, Miles as a quietly ruthless butler, and a very young Kinnear as an ex-convict. This is the film for those people who consider themselves religious and think the Church is a wonderful institution, but don't actually feel they need to go.
9 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
New DVD makes this classic available again; worth the wait!
LCShackley24 February 2003
This film made a big impression on me when I saw it 30 years ago on late night TV and am glad to say that it's finally available in an excellent DVD transfer. What "I'm All Right Jack" did for unions and management, "Heavens Above" does for clerics and laypeople. It's an honest film about how religious and secular people react to someone who, innocently, tries to act according to Christ's teachings and ends up turning society upside-down. Peter Sellers as the naif Rev. Smallwood turns in one of his most appealing performances. Plenty of hilarious supporting characters (Roy Kinnear, Ian Carmichael, Brock Peters, Bernard Miles) round out the cast. Only script weakness is the last 10 minutes...but we will forgive them charitably in gratitude for the 100 minutes before that!
9 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
wonderful satire
blanche-29 January 2011
Peter Sellers plays a minister with a new assignment in "Heavens Above!" a 1963 film written by John Boulting and directed by John and Roy Boulting. Sellers is the Rev. John Smallwood, and he's assigned to a new parish from his current prison ministry by mistake when he's confused with another Rev. Smallwood. He gets to the parish and really shakes things up, so much so that he practically brings down the entire British economy. He's well-meaning, but not very practical. He convinces the wealthy woman in town, Lady Despard (Isabeal Jeans) to give away food. Naturally the grocers are upset. Then he trashes the product the big factory in town produces, and their stock crashes. While he's at it, he takes in a huge family that was forced off of their property.

The film makes fun of religion with a straight face. Smallwood tells Lady Despard that she won't go to heaven because she hasn't given up her earthly belongings and followed Christ. He preaches God to such an extent that when the Despard butler tells him off, he does it with two different Bible quotes - for me, that was the funniest scene in the movie.

The British economy suffered greatly after World War II, and there are many films about it. This is but one, taking its place with "The Man in the White Suit," "I'm All Right, Jack," and others.

Peter Sellers is amazing as Smallwood, modeling the character on a former teacher of his. He's a gentle man, not given to temper outbursts, who stands by his principles, even though he's a complete airhead.

Very good.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Devil's in the details
tieman6427 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Another satire by directors John and Roy Boulting, "Heavens Above!" stars Peter Sellers as a Christian chaplain who takes over the running of a small church. To the chagrin of local businessmen, clerics and land owners, Sellers' "progressive" beliefs upset the status quo; he offers charity to the poor, is friendly with Afro-Caribbean men and lets a family of squatters live in his church. How dare he!?

The Boulting Brothers' "I'm All Right Jack" pitted capitalists versus communists and union workers. "Heavens Above!" does something similar, portraying Christian values as being unsustainable, irrational and downright ill-effective in a world governed by both the logic of capitalism and the golden calves of profit and private land ownership. Ill-equipped for this world, Sellers' character finds himself locked in a rocket and blasting off into outer space. For the idealistic chaplain, Christianity and planet Earth itself are incompatible (thus "heaven's above"). Of course the opposite is also true; "earthly" capitalism heavily depends upon different forms of "Christian" welfare. In Britain, it was itself via the burgeoning welfare state which capitalism co-opted and neutralised "threatening" Christian socialists and worker movements.

Though "Heavens Above!" wastes a good premise, the always watchable Peter Sellers elevates things. His chaplain is idealistic, kind-hearted, but tragically pushed to a point of near-total disillusionment. Forgotten by most film-lovers, the Boulting Brothers anticipate the works of Lindsay Anderson.

7.5/10 – Worth one viewing.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
two points not covered by other reviewers
craig hill5 November 2013
Everybody is skewered in this potentially really good film, which falters as noted, no one comes out looking great, Christian, non- Christian, charity cases, welfare cheats, oblivious do-gooders, selfish non-do-gooders alike, with great insight offered on all of the above throughout. The primary comment seems to be that modern times has gotten Christianity right, that its message is obsolete, that the govt has filled in for dwindling public charity because society has moved from giving to being provided for---to the extent that the tattered welfare state is continuing. The oft-castigated ending was aqdded to continue in this vein the idea that Christianity, which doesn't work on Earth any more, may work better in its only alternative left, outer space, by sending broadcasts down from the heavens. At least that's the message the Boultings seemed to have wanted us to get, tho few on this site have. Like those few films that try to deliver important stories but don't quite work, the effort was worth it. Sellers plays his character perfectly, the entire cast is very good, the script is excellent for what it's trying to accomplish, and the ending, which does seem tacked on and out of place, is actually the logical extension to the quandary of Christianity in modern times that's displayed through the film.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
476th Review: Boulting Bros, Peter Sellers, Early 60s Class Comedy - Heaven indeed!
intelearts9 January 2012
Heavens Above! has so much going for it - a wonderful and very gentle performance by Sellers, a who's who of British comedy from the late 1950s, and the Boulting Brothers at the helm. This is a film that stands the test of time and remains both fun and interesting and a fascinating take on Anglicanism. In Britain, children of a certain class went to privileged school with the eldest son being shipped off to serve as an officer, or join the Foreign Office for the larger good of the Empire, and the second son would go to the City or the Church.

Anglican vicars aren't meant to be like Peter Seller's John Smallwood - who really does hold to the Gospel rather than doctrine, and is appointed vicar, by mistake, of a decidedly complacent and snooty town. What follows gently pokes fun at the double standards.

All in all, this remains one of Seller's gentlest, truest, and straightest characterisations. Like Alec Guinness he really does become the character he's playing - from the hair to the accent to the smallest gestures, but more than that, here, is the heart. He captures something ethereal that we would all recognise as sincerity and good intentions.

When he introduces true gospel values everything, of course, starts to fall apart. Historically, this is interesting in that Billy Graham has come to Britain and there is something of that spirit about this; but it is no way heavy handed or blunt.

Heavens Above! resorts to a weak ending - wish he'd been sent to the East End of London or Liverpool - but it remains a wonderful film well worth the time to catch when it comes around.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
"Profits Instead of Prophets"...the Boulting Brothers once again poking British class systems in the eye
moonspinner556 January 2011
Mild satire on corporate greed versus small town mores and morals has Peter Sellers nicely cast as a prison cleric who becomes the divine pawn in a clerical error: he is summoned to take over a neighborhood parish by mistake. This new vicar's 'radical' ideas in beginning a Good Will policy seem destructive to the Christian hypocrites in the slowly-progressing town...and once his actions take a toll on Big Business, the immoral majority turns against him. Sellers worked this small (but no less ambitious) British comedy into his schedule sometime between "Lolita" and "Dr. Strangelove"; it isn't the monumental comic performance one might expect, however the then-rising star is nevertheless congenial and appealing (albeit in a low key). Producer-director sibling team John and Roy Boulting have some light fun skewering the rich and soulless, but perhaps their final act takes the film's title too literally! ** from ****
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Sellers' at his best?
FrankieT6 August 1999
Peter Sellers is excellent in his role as a vicar. And is aided by an all star cast. Incidentally Steve Marriott plays Eric Sykes's Eldest son. This was after playing the original (and Lionel Bart believes one of the best) "Artful Dodger" and before he found fame with the equally excellent Small Faces and the not as good Humble Pie.
8 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Wonderful Film, With a Tacked on Ending
mike1719796 April 2009
Peter Sellers is perfect as the small town Father Smallwood. Smallwood is one of the most endearing characters you'll ever see. He is kind hearted, sincere, and honest, if not a bit miss guided.

Of course a character such as this being dumped into a town of swine is going to be interesting and it is.

The ending is very emotional, for a comedic satire, but then, the tacked on ending completely changes the mood and tries its best to torpedo the entire film. Luckily, although the ending comes from absolutely no where and does damage the film, it does not takeaway from the superb job Peter Sellers did as Smallwood.
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Who will rid Orbiston Parva of this troublesome priest?
ShadeGrenade30 November 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Roy and John Boulting had previously guyed the British army in 'Private's Progress', diplomacy in 'Carlton-Browne Of The F.O.', industrial relations in 'I'm All Right Jack', and the legal profession in 'Brothers In Law'. For 'Heavens Above!' they turned their attentions to the church. Or did they? According to the credits, the script by Frank Harvey and John Boulting was based on an idea by Malcolm Muggeridge, who called 'Monty Python's Life Of Brian' a squalid little film on its original release in 1979. It comes as no surprise then that 'Above!' is deeply respectful towards religion; its main targets are the people who go to church each Sunday in their nice hats and sing their hearts out whilst being generally horrible the rest of the week, those who take from the Bible what they want and ignore everything else. And if you can make a few bob out of it too, good luck mate.

Peter Sellers adopts a Birmingham accent to play the Rev. John Smallwood, a well meaning prison chaplain appointed in error to a parish in the small industrial town of Orbiston Parva, whose main industry is Tranquillax, a pep pill cum laxative. Right away he upsets the snobbish locals by appointing a black bin man ( Brock Peters ) called Matthew as his new Churchwarden. Then he gives a home to a pack of scurrilous gypsies led by Harry ( Eric Sykes ) and Rene Smith ( Irene Handl ) who proceed to rob him blind. The last straw for the community comes when he persuades local rich woman Lady Despard ( Isabel Jeans ) to use her wealth to start a new charity called the 'Good Neighbour Fellowship', which involves giving free food to anyone who wants it. The charity is popular at first, but leads to shop closures on a massive scale. When Lady Despard's son ( Mark Eden ) puts a stop to the scheme, the angry townspeople rounds on Smallwood...

The 'G.N.F.' is basically a thickly-disguised sneer at the Welfare State. The Boultings seem to be saying that the N.H.S. will collapse eventually due to over-demand. Well, we're in 2010 now and it is still here, having saved thousands of lives over the years. While objecting to the analogy, I still find this to be a marvellous film. The attacks on the Vicar's 'socialist' leanings are augmented by some rather obvious comedy touches such as him accidentally eating dog biscuits and Lady Despard's Peckinese peeing on his boot. Sellers again turns in a magnificent performance, drawing praise years later from his 'Goon Show' co-star Spike Milligan: "That character ( Smallwood ) is brilliantly sustained from beginning to end.".

What about that supporting cast, eh? Let me drop a few names - Kenneth Griffith, William Hartnell, Cecil Parker, George Woodbridge, Bernard Miles, Cardew Robinson, Roy Kinnear, Miles Malleson - amongst others. Troopers all. One surprising thing though is the relegation of dear Ian Carmichael ( whom we lost earlier this year ) to a minor role as 'the other Smallwood'. He'd starred in almost all of the Boultings' earlier comedies, with the exception's of 'Carlton-Browne' and 'A French Mistress'.

What lets the film down slightly is the ending in which Smallwood is moved by the Church to safer pastures by becoming the first Bishop of Outer Space. It belongs in a different film entirely. As he flies off into the heavens in a rocket, singing hymns, you cannot help but feel sorry for him. Hope he made it back to Earth eventually.
3 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Says much about the dreary 90% of the iceberg that was British life topped by 10% 'swinging sixties' above the water-line!
panicoma-124 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Ian Carmichael with vicar's teeth, and the angelic Irene Handl as wife of dead-beat Eric Sykes in one of his rare, prominent movie roles (see him excel in 'The Liquidator' 1965), accompanied by 'sixties British character actors arranged randomly, as if in a box of top-notch chocolates you just can't wait to eat! Peter Sellers underplays Reverend Smallwood, in what can be seen as a biting satire on the then attitudes of comfortable 'Christian' middle-class villagers, towards those less fortunate. A gypsy family is evicted from the field owned by bastard landowner William Hartnell, and 'mistaken identity' vicar Sellers takes them in, showing true humanitarian action. Simultaneously, Lady of the Manor, majority shareholder in the company which keeps the village afloat, decides to buy her way into heaven by selling her shares to feed the locals for free. And such locals! I spotted Cardew Robinson, Joan Hickson and Miriam Karlin, and anyone who thought Chris Barrie was good but miscast as butler to Lara Croft in Tomb Raider would have seen the real McCoy in Bernard Miles, the only thing missing was the identifying fart.

This was, I remember, hilarious when released, but has undeniably dated. It is now most useful as a beautiful memento of the lost world that was mid-20thcentury England. Peter Sellers eating the dog's biscuits has been done a few times since, I am sure, but never bettered.

The Boulting Brothers had bigger hits which are shown more frequently: 'Carlton Browne of the F.O.', 'The Family Way' etc., and this, though a good film, is not a classic. The most grating aspect, regrettably quite common in the sixties, is the dubbing with female' voices of all the kids, male and female. Call to mind that awful advertisement for insurance with the six month old child speaking like Brian Sewell. Perhaps the real voices were too regional or uncultured and the netball team just happened to be standing close-by?

The world was black and white in those days, not just the movies, and though we have lost a lot along the way, we have occasionally gained a depth which early British comedy rarely achieved. Elstree movies were finished by then, - the New Wave had not arrived, and 'Heavens Above', while worthy and amusing, is little more than one of the richly decorated connecting links between these two interesting eras of movie-making.
3 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Has Hollywood ever lampooned the Church? Or do they leave it all to the English?
JohnHowardReid28 September 2017
Warning: Spoilers
A Boulting Brothers Production for British Lion-Romulus, filmed at Shepperton Studios. Copyright 1963 by Charter Film Productions. New York opening at the Sutton: 20 May 1963. U.S. release through Janus Films: May 1963. U.K. release through British Lion: 8 September 1963. London opening: 23 May 1963. Australian release through British Empire Films: November 1963. Sydney opening at the State. 10,638 feet. 118 minutes. Cut to 105 minutes for U.S. release. (Available on an excellent Optimum DVD. Starz/Anchor Bay have the PAL version for U.S.A. customers. Alas, I can't say if this version is the censored U.S.A. release. You'll need to check the running time).

SYNOPSIS: Due to a clerical error, the wrong Reverend Smallwood is appointed to the living of a conservative British town.

NOTES: Number eight on the 1963 list of the top money-making films released in the U.K.

VIEWER'S GUIDE: Most suitable for all, although of course, parents, teachers and clergy should prepare themselves to answer some very tricky questions.

COMMENT: I missed out on seeing the American version of this film. If the cutting has been loving and sympathetic, "Heavens Above!" would offer marvelous entertainment. For the only thing wrong with the film as shown in England is that it tends to out-stay its welcome. The producers should have taken up the good old blue pencil at the scripting stage. Or they should have had the courage to cut themselves, not leave it to Janus. I suppose they felt they'd spent so much money that they wanted to see it all on the screen.

For most of its running time, "Heavens Above!" is an enjoyable if heavy-handed farce that benefits from its never-ending parade of dependable British character players handing out emphatically pointed lines of satire. The film even dares to raise troublesome questions of Christian social morality. And of course it really puts the boot into the Church of England's administration.

The film deserves to be taken seriously, even if the Boultings themselves are obviously unsure how importantly their Smallwood is meant to be taken. Sellers, however, leaves no doubt in his sermons, all of which are presented with transparent sincerity.

In fact, except for the final absurdities, Sellers provides a finely etched, well-rounded characterization. It's a pity the director forces him to lapse now and again into slightly inappropriate slapstick.

Production values are first-class, with a special pat on the back to Albert Witherick for his marvelously dingy, appropriately rundown church and vicarage sets.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
The real congregation are those who really practice what the vicar preaches.
mark.waltz10 April 2017
Warning: Spoilers
A simple message throughout this subtle comedy prevails. Real faith comes from the joy of giving, and that's not always in the financial way. For unorthodox vicar Peter Sellers, his methods of spreading this joy doesn't come from accepting large financial gifts, not when somebody's home is taken away from them. Wealthy matron Isabel Jeans ("Gigi's" Aunt Alicia) is exactly like Gladys Cooper's wealthy matron in "The Bishop's Wife", selfish and unchristian in her manner, even though she attends services regularly. She's the one Sellers refuses to accept money from, because it's her land that a poor family is thrown off of, unable to pay the rising rents. Sellers makes it clear to Jeans that her attitude is not going to welcome her into God's bosom, revealed to her in the most subtle and humorous of ways.

But as Jeans strives to atone, the allegedly poor members of the small congregation reveal their own imperfections, misunderstanding Sellers' message of love thy neighbor and aide those less fortunate. They treat African parishioner Brock Peters with contempt for being black, fight over goods in stores, pass judgments and spread gossip. In short, they've turned into the type of parishioners I observed in church and stopped going for that reason. This is a smart philosophical comedy that deals with many spiritual issues prevalent today.

Another subtle performance by Sellers with only slight accent, yet with the nuances of eccentricity his fans have come to love and expect. Peters shows a joy of the simple visions of what the joy of faith should be. The light shines off of him, yet is vacant in the white parishioners who obviously have selfish motivations for calling themselves Christians, as if believing in God simply was the way to avoid the roads to the unknown depths of hell. Whether or not hell exists, it's obvious who has found heaven on earth, just as its obvious in life today who has found it here or simply just going through the motions or giving a performance.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Even a stellar Sellers can't boost mockery to biting satire
Malcolm Parker24 February 2015
There is a very rich wealth of comedic talent involved throughout this film. Sadly, the majority are wasted in shallow stereotypical caricatures which en-masse, eventually drag the fairly simple premise (answered very pointedly by the film's title) away from the pleasing light-heartedness of films like "Two Way Stretch" or the benchmark satire of "I'm All Right Jack" to something that ends up leaving a bit of a nasty taste in the mouth. The only reason to watch this film is to enjoy the work of Peter Sellers. The meek sincerity of his Rev. John Smallwood is unblemished throughout, but what should be the pointed nature of his eventual salvation at the end of the film jars badly. We witness that both the church and the odious parish emerge relatively unscathed, but Smallwood's deliverance doesn't gel and appears as though it were tacked on regardless when the film-makers couldn't think of anything else to end the film. Alongside Sellers, only George Woodbridge is particularly notable, playing very much against type as a fairly shrewd Bishop.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
tedious movie
veemoffa8 July 2003
While Peter Sellers does a good job with his role as a naive minister -- and most of the supporting roles are also well-played -- the film as a whole is not especially interesting. It has a few funny moments, but is mostly yawn-inducing. Most of the characters, from low-life rogues to the stuffy gentry, are cliches that I've seen a dozen times before. What saves this film from being a total failure is a talented cast -- too bad they didn't have a better script to work with.
8 out of 39 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Cliché after Cliché, Nothing original
SA23 May 2009
I liked Peter Sellers in his well-known films and I started to watch the harder-to-find movies in his repertoire. I am starting to hate every movie he was in. His satire falls flat throughout his movies and he makes irrelevant points about society. Many people blame the script but he chose to do the movie with this inept script. Humor is lacking throughout this movie and his many other films.

First of all, the "satire" in this movie is directed at the stereotypical stuffed-shirts but this movie then builds up the stereotypical low-lifes as heroes. It is a cliché through and through and it is poorly done. The movie was plodding along and bored me to no end.

I don't understand why so many people think that any satire of Peter Sellers is funny. There is nothing interesting in this movie and every joke falls flat because of bad timing, bad acting or whatever reason.

For example, a man, who is on the dole and refuses to work, loses his home but the vicar allows them to live in the vicarage, where his large family spreads junk around it and continues to steal and cause trouble just like before they lost their other home. This family doesn't need to learn anything but the stuffed-shirts can't do anything right. This type of humor is one-sided at its best and superficial at its worst.
3 out of 26 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews