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UK 1959
Directed by
Robert Hamer
90 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

School For Scoundrels Or How To Win Without Actually Cheating!

A late addition to the top drawer catalogue of 1950s British comedies, School For Scoundrels, or: How to Win Without Actually Cheating despite having a handful of familiar faces in familiar roles, is at best a mildly diverting affair.

Ian Carmichael plays Henry Palfrey a chronic loser who attends a life-coaching school run by Mr Potter (Alistair Sims) in order to learn how to best his debonnaire rival, Raymond Delauney (Terry-Thomas), and win the heart of the girl (Janette Scott) that Delauney has stolen from him.

Aside from being rather lack-lustre the script, which was based on a series of successful books by Stephen Potter, depends on reversing the well-established personae of Carmichael and Terry-Thomas. Both made film after film in which they rolled out their standard characters, a bumbling Mr Nice Guy and a suave cad respectively (I’m Alright Jack released the same year is a good example) but here the plot depends on a simple reversal of the stereotypes with Carmichael coming on all dashing and Terry-Thomas eating his dust. It just doesn’t feel right, at least not in director Hamer’s hands who had directed the 1949 black comedy classic, Kind Hearts and Coronets. The film’s highly unusual ending, with Sims addressing the camera is, perhaps, an indication of  the corner into which the film-makers had painted themselves.

Aside from the incomparable Terry-Thomas there are appearances by Peter Jones and Dennis Price as a pair of unscrupulous second-hand car dealers (one, along with the restaurant scene in which Delauney steals Henry’s girl, of the two best scenes in the film) and Hattie Jacques and Irene Handel put in brief appearances. Fans of the style will find this sufficient even if overall the film is an indication that it was on its last legs.

FYI: The film was remade in 2006 with Jon Heder and Billy Bob Thornton in the leads




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