“We should Have Gone by Tunnel” – Rediscovering ‘Very Important Person’ (UK 1961 – 98 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - January 07, 2014
“We should Have Gone by Tunnel” – Rediscovering ‘Very Important Person’ (UK 1961 – 98 mins)

A unique mix of comedy and suspense, the oddly overlooked ‘Very Important Person’ is one of those cosy British movies that holds up to repeated viewings, and is one of my favourite post-war comedies.
During a recording of a ‘This is Your Life’ style TV show, honouring Sir Earnest Pease (James Robertson Justice), we flash back to see how the top scientist ends up in a German PoW camp. Sharing a cell with a light-hearted group of PoW’s, he finds himself caught up in various plans of escape.

Known in the US as ‘A Coming-Out Party’, the movie was primarily a vehicle for the popular character actor James Robertson Justice, in the tailor-made role of a pompous professor. But I think the real star here is the extremely talented Stanley Baxter, in a breakout role playing gloomy Scottish inmate Jock Everett, and the camp commandant lookalike, Stamfel. This movie is Baxter’s own personal favourite, and it’s easy to see why. He clearly relished the chance to play both characters, and does so very convincingly.

The finale involving Baxter’s Scotsman nervously impersonating the commandant during the groups escape is genuinely tense. You are just waiting for something to go wrong, as quite often in these types of British comedies, these schemes often backfire.

Leslie Phillips had one of his best comedic roles here, playing jovial RAF officer Jimmy Cooper. Jeremy Lloyd, (ten years before going on to write TV hit ‘Are You Being Served?’) is also great fun to watch as fellow officer ‘Bonzo’ Baines. The excellent supporting cast also includes a who’s who of British talent, including John Le Mesurier, Eric Sykes, Norman Bird and Richard Wattis.

Leslie Phillips, James Robertson Justice and Stanley Baxter re-teamed the following year for two more Annakin directed comedies, ‘Crooks Anonymous’ , and ‘The Fast Lady’, both of which were early roles for rising star Julie Christie. In 1964 Phillips, Justice and Baxter were teamed once more for the enjoyable domestic comedy ‘Father Came Too!’

Director Ken Annakin had early success with the very popular ‘Huggett’ family comedies, beginning with ‘Holiday Camp’ in 1947. Making ‘Very Important Person’ fresh off of the Disney smash ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ (1960), Annakin went on to make the star-studded 1965 hit ‘Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines’, and the similar, though less enjoyable ‘Monte Carlo or Bust!’ (1969), with Tony Curtis.

‘Very Important Person’ is an entertaining parody of the stiff upper-lipped wartime dramas. Wonderfully scripted by Jack Davies and Henry Blyth (who co-wrote most of the Norman Wisdom comedies), everything about the movie is , to quote Leslie Phillips: “tickety boo”.

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