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

Thursday, September 20, 2018


Alistair Sim
THE BELLES OF ST TRINIAN'S (1954). Director: Frank Launder.

Millicent Fritton (Alistair Sim of The Millionairess), the clueless headmistress of the St. Trinian's School for Girls, is in a quandary. The school's bank account has only $400 but it is in debt for ten times that much. The students are incorrigible monsters who ignore their teachers when they aren't blowing each other up with bombs. The teachers are a weird lot consisting of inebriates and felons. Both the Ministry of Education and the police are investigating the school, although representatives from the Ministry never seem to return from their visits there. Policewoman Ruby Gates (Joyce Grenfell of Stage Fright)  is directed to infiltrate the school as a new professor, where she discovers that there is an active gin-making business among half the students while the other half are trying to manipulate a horse race -- by stealing a horse -- in order to make some cash (an idea that after some outrage appeals to Ms. Fritton). Someone else who wants to make money on the race is Millicent's brother, Clarence (also played by Sim) and his daughter, Jackie (Diana Day), a nearly middle-aged women who should have been out of school years before. Inspired by the cartoons of Ronald Searle, The Belles of St. Trinian's is a very clever and consistently amusing black comedy that gets high marks for utter originality. The casting of Alistair Sim as the headmistress is absolutely inspired, as Sims does a dead-on impression -- if you can even call if a mere "impression" -- of a dowager who will maintain her dignity no matter what vulgar or appalling shenanigans are going on all around her. There's also a terrific and fun score by Malcolm Arnold [Stolen Face], and a host of wonderful supporting performances. The soccer match is hilarious, and the ending is a pip! Followed by several sequels and an inferior remake.

Verdict: This picture is not a drag. ***1/2.

NOTE: This post is part of the Gender Bending the Rules Blogathon co-hosted by Angelman's Place and The Midnite Drive-In


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill - thanks for joining our blogathon with this fascinating entry. I must admit I have only read about this classic picture and have yet to see it. Now I must. What a treat it will be to see Alistair Sim ( in my opinion the very best screen Scrooge) in a dual role, one female and one male...And this movie looks like a hoot!
- Chris

William said...

That it is, Chris. There's nothing quite like it. And Sim is, in a word, a genius!

Caftan Woman said...

What a perfect choice. Sim is such a hoot as Miss Fritton. This laugh-out-loud comedy is always a treat. In the small world department, I posted on Twitter earlier this morning that this was my "favourite movie featuring a school."

William said...

Come to think of it, it may be my favorite school movie as well. Alas, the sequels and the remakes were not in the same league. For one thing, they didn't have Sim!

Thanks for your comment!

Red_Cardinal said...

Another of my favourite films; it has some excellent dialogue and great characters.

You might like (if you haven't already seen it) "The Happiest Days of Your Life" (1950); also featuring Alistair Sim as the headmaster of a boy's school that has a girl's school foistered on it. The headmistress of the latter is played by the great Margaret Rutherford

Quiggy said...

I absolutely love black comedy. Gotta see if the library has this. Thanks for joining.

William said...

Thank you, Quiggy, this blogathon was a lot of fun!

Red Cardinal, "The Happiest Days of Your Life" is familiar to me, but if I saw it it was many years ago, but I will look for it!