Farce and Crime in The Green Man (1956)

Green Man 1

In a way this film can be viewed as an inverted crime story which is prevented from ever succeeding. From the start we are told from the very lips of the assassin, Hawkins (played by Alistair Sims), of his intention to assassinate Sir Gregory Upshot. We are even privy to how the killing will take place. Yet it is never meant to be. From his first mistake of allowing Marigold, Sir Gregory’s secretary to see his notes concerning his intended crime it all goes downhill. No more so than when William Blake, a keen and enthusiastic vacuum salesman appears on the scene, forever picking up trails of Hawkins’ plans from blood stains to house names. Alongside Blake, Miss Vincent (played by Jill Adams), the new owner of the house adjacent to Hawkins, helps in the amateur sleuthing. The main source of entertainment in this film is watching this pair try and figure out what is going on. Frequently they latch upon the correct solution to only discard it for a wrong one and the tension builds as with minimal information, which is easy to misunderstand, the race is on to stop the assassination of Sir Gregory Upshott at The Green Man hotel before it’s too late. Comedy is also interwoven into the plot through the character of Reginald, a BBC newsreader and fiancé of Miss Vincent, who repeatedly walks in on Miss Vincent and Blake always at the wrong moments, leading him to think she is cheating on him. He also gets the prize for the best line of the film for its downright Britishness which he delivers to Blake after finding him in a seemingly compromising state with his fiancée:

‘I’d thrash the life out of you, if I didn’t have to read the 9 o clock news.’

Alistair Sim also provides laughs through his character of the part time assassin. In true black comedy fashion, as Hawkins, Sim opens the film narrating about his childhood and in a nonchalant manner explains how a prank on a head teacher (an electric shock fountain pen and an exploding ink well) ended in death and also to his future career. His character is made more sympathetic by the fact he only kills ‘great’ and very self-important men. While watching the film there is no anxiety over the intended victim and whether they will be killed, the focus being on Hawkins’ continuous changes of plan to work around the latest calamities and the farces Blake and Miss Vincent end up in. This again ties into the black comedy genre of the film.

The Green Man 2


The irreverent and farcical nature of this film is very similar to the tone and atmosphere of the original St Trinian films. This similarity is reinforced by the use of animated opening credits drawn in the style used by the St Trinian films of the 1950s and 60s. Moreover, many of the actors who have played in these films also turn up in The Green Man such as Raymond Huntley who plays Sir Gregory Upshott, George Cole (William Blake), Alistair Sim (Hawkins), Colin Gordon (Reginald), Dora Bryan (Lily the landlady at the Green Man), Richard Wattis (the doctor) and Terry Thomas (Lily’s fancy man).

Alistair Sim and George Cole in The Belles of St. Trinians
Alistair Sim and George Cole in The Belles of St. Trinians

This is definitely an easy film to watch with its crescendo of detective and criminal farce and humorous lines, with a good wodge of misunderstandings and will be of interest to any fan of 1950s and 60s British comedy.

Rating: 4/5
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