Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


Peter O'Toole
THE RULING CLASS (1972). Director: Peter Medak.

When the Earl of Gurnsey (Harry Smith) dies in a grotesque, kinky accident involving a tutu and a hanging, his son Jack (Peter O'Toole) becomes the new Earl. The problem is that Jack has been institutionalized for years and is convinced that he is Jesus and/or God. In spite [or because] of this, his Uncle Charles (William Mervyn) decides to marry him off to Charles' mistress, Grace (Carolyn Seymour) so that they can re-commit him once he's delivered an heir. But Jack, whose persona is definitely becoming darker, has different plans in mind. Coral Browne is Charles' wife, Claire, and the great Alistair Sim (Belles of St. Trinian's) is cast as the befuddled Bishop, "Bertie." The entire cast is splendid, including Michael Bryant as Jack's psychiatrist; Nigel Green [Let's Kill Uncle] as another nutcase; James Villiers as Jack's cousin, Dinsdale; and especially Arthur Lowe, who [along with Sim] nearly steals the picture as the family butler, who has inherited money from the late earl and feels free to tell everybody what he really thinks of them even as he waits on them. The first half of this zany movie, which roasts British class distinctions, religion, conservative values and the like, is very, very funny, with madcap musical numbers, such as "Varsity Drag," interspersed to complete the fun and lunacy. Alas, there's too much of a good thing, the movie goes on way too long, blunting its satiric points, and before long you're just wishing it were over. O'Toole is excellent, but his obnoxious, screeching Jack gives you a headache after a while. Some moments are painfully obvious, such as when Jack addresses the House of Lords and they are depicted in quick cuts as skeletons awash in cobwebs. This was filmed in  Harlaxton Manor, a huge, impressive [but rather ugly] house in Lincolnshire. which is now actually the British campus for the University of Evansville in Indiana.

Verdict: A little too surreal and self-indulgent for its own good. **1/2.

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