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It’s a Grand Life

The last of the Mancunian comedies, and fittingly the final vehicle for the corporation’s most charismatic stockholder, Frank Randle. Nothing if not sure of an old favourite, ‘the stage and screen’s most famous comedian’, as he’s billed here, is back in the parade ground milieu of the Somewhere… films. Randle, by now surely Britain’s oldest pre-Dad’s Army private, is joined once more by Gus Aubrey and Dan Young. Harry Korris retired in 1950, so the sergeant is an altogether more humourless Irish demagogue, who has his beady eye on the female lead, ‘Britain’s most beautiful and glamorous Diana Dors’. Dors was by this point well on the way to the stardom of Yield to the Night (1956) and the like, but here she’s slumming it up north in the same thankless filler role as Toni Lupino, and doesn’t she know it. She audibly inflects her Rank Charm School diction with an unmistakeable air of disdain for the entire operation.

Fortunately Randle himself is back to full cinematic strength. The Somewhere… staples are all here – wrestling match, concert party, comedy lecture, wrecked car – along with a few new developments. Chief of these is a ramping up of the crosstalk to chaotically unintelligible levels. In an early scene where Randle is being disciplined for letting Barnes, a deserter, escape in a jeep, our hero justifies himself thus:

‘Ah! Ah! Barnes, y’see, yes, well. What about him, sir? Dunno? Never mind, doesn’t matter… Well, his wife, y’see, er… terrible, er… she had four children, er, sir. Four. All four of them, one either a boy or a child, I’m not quite sure. I think his wife, er… very unfortunate… nasty operation, sir, she’s had for her grumbling stones, er, slot stones, er, I think it’s… er… gall, er… Have you seen a gallstone? Scuse me, sir [Randle grabs a pen and starts drawing] Now, a gall… look here, I’ll draw you chicken. [Officer snatches pen] Oh, don’t you want a chicken, sir?’

The whole batch of comedy scenes has this weird, semi-improvised feel. Randle and Young put one over on Charlie Entwhistle, a gormless character suspiciously resembling George Formby (where much play is made of the latter’s unwitting deployment of double entendres: ‘Why fling thy thwarts in my face?’ ‘His thwarts have a powerful sting!’) Yiddish comedian Charles Peters confuses them with ethnic shtick (‘My brother Moishe, he’s gone meshuggeh!’ ‘Are you Welsh by any chance?’) The oddest addition is Arthur White as the decrepit, spectral Private Prendergast. Even more oblivious to his superiors’ authority than Randle, the bewildered old duffer wanders into scenes willy-nilly, starts shaking hands with everyone as if at a dinner party, and delights in gratuitously muddying the conversational mire still further.

By this point in the film, comedy has disintegrated from its set-up/punchline roots into a verbal free for all. The slapstick has gone similarly native – a scene with Young and co giving wrestler Homicide Randle a vigorous pre-match rubdown is literally four minutes of grunting and falling about. Randle blusters, Young simpers, Dors smoulders, up to the final scene where the nasty Irish sarge pushes Dors off a bridge and Randle rescues her (or rather La Dors’ stunt double, a young Pat Phoenix), leading to a grand party in his honour featuring, incongruously enough, Winifred Atwell on piano.

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