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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

AFI/BFI #205: The Belles of St. Trinian's (1954)

Director: Frank Launder
Writer: Frank Launder, Sidney Gilliat, Val Valentine
Composer: Malcolm Arnold
AFI Rank:  -
BFI Rank: 94

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To anybody under the age of 40 this is going to be a hard sell. The first and best entry in the series was made nearly 60 years ago and was based on the cartoons of Ronald Searle. Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat wrote, directed and produced over 40 films together but they will mainly be remembered for the St Trinian's films. The comedy may come thick and fast but it is gentle by today's standards and a younger audience may have trouble understanding what all the fuss is about. Like many classic british comedies you need to watch with a little pinch of nostalgia. Although people slam the modern St Trinian's and Carry On remakes it is hard to argue that they are truly that different. The formula is the same but they don't have the benefit of that nostalgia and as a result seem dated and flat, unlike their revered originals.

If I could make an argument for watching Belles then it would have to be the outstanding cast and superb performances. A who's who of british comedy led by the incomparable Alastair Sim in dual roles (Alec Guinness channelled him in The Ladykillers and was also brilliant in his own multi-role celluloid excursions), with Joyce Grenfell, George Cole, Beryl Reid, Irene Handl, Joan Sims and Sid James, all showing the expert comedic timing and delivery that made each of them a household name.

Sim was also Cole's off screen mentor
Launder had previously directed The Happiest Days of Your Life four years earlier with Sim, Grenfell and Cole and Belles owes a great deal to its predecessor. It is less risque than you might imagine, although for the time it probably raised a few eyebrows, especially the depiction of the sixth form girls. It is the youngest girls that are the real terrors though and are closer to Searle's strips. They never had nitroglycerin in my chemistry lab... 

It used to be very hard to get a copy of this in the US but that is no longer the case. I watched the US DVD release from Netflix and it looked pretty good for it's age. Amazon also has it for streaming in SD if that is your thing. Overall Belles is still a highly entertaining film and a perfect Sunday afternoon movie. It is vintage british comedy at its best.


1 comment:

  1. I completely agree. As someone under the age of 40 I was sceptical after seeing the scathing reviews of the modern St. Trinians.

    As you say, people ought to give this a try because it truly is vintage comedy. As I said in my review ( ), much of the comedy is outdated but still highly watchable now.