Directed By: Robert Hamer, Cyril Frankel
Starring: Ian Carmichael, Terry-Thomas, Alastair Sim
Tag line: "Learn to gain weight by LOSING scruples!"
Trivia: Much of the movie was directed by Cyril Frankel, as original director Robert Hamer, who was an alcoholic, kept showing up for work drunk
Whenever the subject of favorite movies was brought up in our house, my father would always talk about the 1960 British Comedy School for Scoundrels, which he praised as being both clever and funny. Still, despite having heard so much about it, this was the first time I actually watched the movie, and I must say I agree with him 100%; School for Scoundrels is an intelligent, incredibly amusing film.
Henry Palfrey (Ian Carmichael) is one of life’s losers. A meek executive who gets pushed around by his more experienced assistant, Gloatbridge (Edward Chapman), Henry can’t even hold onto April Smith (the lovely Janette Scott), the woman of his dreams; while on their first date, April falls under the spell of suave bachelor Raymond Delauney (Terry-Thomas), an acquaintance of Henry’s from the country club who they run into at the restaurant. In an effort to regain April’s attentions, Henry purchases an automobile from a pair of less-than-reputable used car salesmen (Dennis Price and Peter Jones), only to find that the vehicle is no match for Delauney’s brand new sports car.
So, to gain some much-needed confidence, Henry enrolls in the School of Lifesmanship, a facility that, under the guidance of Dr. Potter (Alistair Sim), has turned even the most hopeless loser into a winner. After several weeks of classes, Henry, armed with a newfound understanding of how to get the upper hand in any situation, begins putting his life in order, all in the hopes of winning back April, with whom he is still very much in love.
Ever since I first saw him in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, I’ve been a fan of Terry-Thomas, and in School for Scoundrels he turns in a hilarious performance as the haughty yet debonair Delauney, whose every word and action is designed to make Henry look like a fool in April’s eyes (when Henry and April are late for their reservation at the restaurant, Delauney invites them to join him, then maneuvers himself to be seated next to April on the couch, leaving Henry all alone at the head of the table). Even a “friendly” tennis match between the two men leads to some embarrassment for Henry (the sun in his eyes, Henry is beaten by Delauney in straight sets). Equally as humorous is Henry’s visit to the used car lot, where he drives off in what would best be described as the biggest, loudest, gaudiest vehicle in all of London.
After establishing that its lead character is something of a buffoon, School for Scoundrels changes gears by letting us sit in on a few of the Lifemanship “classes” that alter Henry’s way of thinking. Learning everything from how to humiliate someone at a party to how to get a girl to spill a drink on herself (thus making it easier to remove her clothes), Henry gets down to business, taking revenge on those who, in one way or another, made him feel two inches tall (and because watching how he does so is a whole lot of fun, I won’t dare go into any more detail).
With memorable performances by Thomas, Alistair Sim (who, as Dr. Potter, makes even the most deceitful action appear respectable), Ian Carmichael (perfectly believable as both a fool and a schemer), and Janette Scott (whose good looks and bubbly personality make it easy to see why any man would fall for her), not to mention a smart, witty script penned by Patricia Moyes and producer Hal E. Chester (and based on the “Gamesmanship” series of books by author Stephen Potter), School for Scoundrels is guaranteed to make you laugh, and, thanks to its satisfying conclusion, will almost certainly leave you smiling from ear-to-ear.