|School for Scoundrels|
Original UK poster
|Directed by||Robert Hamer
|Produced by||Hal E. Chester|
|Screenplay by||Hal E. Chester
Peter Ustinov (uncredited)
Frank Tarloff (uncredited)
|Based on||the Gamesmanship series
by Stephen Potter
|Music by||John Addison|
|Edited by||Richard Best|
Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC)
|Distributed by||Associated British Pathé(UK)|
School for Scoundrels is a 1960 British comedy film directed by Robert Hamer and starring Ian Carmichael and Terry-Thomas. It was inspired by the “Gamesmanship” series of books by Stephen Potter. It has been remade twice: in Bollywood in 1975 under the title Chhoti Si Baat, and in Hollywood in 2006 as School for Scoundrels.
Henry Palfrey (Ian Carmichael) is a failure in sport and love, and the easy victim of conmen and employees alike. So he enrols at the “School of Lifemanship” in Yeovil, run by Dr. Potter (Alastair Sim). Late for his appointment, he overhears Potter explaining the principles of lifemanship to the new intake:
Well, gentlemen, lifemanship is the science of being one up on your opponents at all times. It is the art of making him feel that somewhere, somehow he has become less than you – less desirable, less worthy – less blessed.
Palfrey is given an object lesson in this when he has his interview with Potter, who proceeds to win a name-calling game. When Palfrey explains that he is a failure, Potter surmises that a woman is involved. In flashback, Palfrey recounts how he first met April Smith (Janette Scott), knocking parcels from her hands when he rushes to catch a bus. He manages to arrange a dinner date with her.
When Palfrey shows up at work, his loafing employees are unconcerned, despite his being the head of the family firm. They pay much more respect to his senior clerk, Gloatbridge (Edward Chapman). In private, Gloatbridge is patronising toward his erstwhile boss, making the business decisions. Palfrey asks him to make a dinner reservation, and has to fend off Gloatbridge’s unwanted restaurant suggestion. That night at the restaurant, the head waiter (John Le Mesurier) cannot find Palfrey’s booking at first; he does finally locate it under a slightly different name, but still refuses to seat them, as they are late. When Raymond Delauney (Terry-Thomas), a casual acquaintance of Palfrey’s, arrives and sees April, he invites them to his table, where he proceeds to try to seduce April and cast Palfrey in a bad light at every opportunity.
As Delauney has a fancy sports car, Palfrey tries to counter by purchasing an automobile of his own. However, two salesmen (Dennis Price and Peter Jones) sell him a ramshackle 1924 “Swiftmobile”. To further his humiliation of his rival, Delauney suggests a “friendly” tennis match. He wins easily. The film then returns to the school. Over the next several weeks, Palfrey proves to be an apt pupil in learning various ploys to gain the upper hand. The next phase of his education involves a field test of his new skills, evaluated by Potter. Palfrey convinces the car salesmen that his car, after some tune-up, is now a valuable and sought-after vehicle. They trade him a sports car and £100 for his Swiftmobile, which promptly breaks down.
After putting Gloatbridge in his place, Palfrey challenges Delauney to a rematch. Using some stratagems, he thoroughly frustrates his foe before they even start playing. Then, with April watching, Palfrey proceeds to win the set 6-0. April becomes disgusted with Delauney’s behaviour afterward and drives off with Palfrey. They go back to his place for a drink. Palfrey arranges for April’s to spill on her dress. He suggests she take it off to dry and put on his dressing gown. Eventually, they end up in his bedroom through his tricks, but Palfrey cannot bring himself to take advantage of April. Then Delauney barges in, dragging Potter with him. Delauney had found out that Potter was Palfrey’s guest at the tennis club and got the story out of him. However, after Delauney informs her, April realises that Palfrey genuinely loves her, and they embrace, much to the disgust of both Delauney and Potter. Potter breaks the “fourth wall” and apologises to the audience for his pupil’s behaviour.
The film ends with Delauney getting off the train at Yeovil station and heading in the direction of the school.
- Ian Carmichael as Henry Palfrey
- Terry-Thomas as Raymond Delauney
- Alastair Sim as Mr. S. Potter
- Janette Scott as April Smith
- Dennis Price as Dunstan Dorchester
- Peter Jones as Dudley Dorchester
- Edward Chapman as Gloatbridge
- John Le Mesurier as Head Waiter
- Irene Handl as Mrs. Stringer, Palfrey’s landlady
- Kynaston Reeves as General
- Hattie Jacques as 1st Instructress
- Hugh Paddick as Instructor
- Barbara Roscoe as 2nd Instructress
- Gerald Campion as Proudfoot, a school student
- Monte Landis as Fleetsnod, a school student
- Jeremy Lloyd as Dingle, a school student
- Charles Lamb as Carpenter
- Anita Sharp-Bolster as Maid
Potter’s original Gamesmanship had been a popular series of books in the 1950s, but were not written in a narrative form, so the device was adopted that Potter (Alastair Sim) had set up a “College of Lifemanship” in Yeovil to educate those seeking to apply his methods for success. Some interest had previously been shown by Cary Grant (with Carl Foreman) in a filmed version of Potter’s books, but this failed when no way could be found of translating the dry humour for an American audience. The film’s title is a reference to Richard Brinsley Sheridan‘s 1777 comic play, The School for Scandal.
Although the film only credits its producer, Hal E. Chester, and Patricia Moyes for the screenplay, it was co-written by Peter Ustinov and Frank Tarloff. Its director, Robert Hamer, was sacked during filming due to his return to drinking and the enterprise was completed by Chester and an (uncredited) Cyril Frankel. Hamer would never work in film again, and died in 1963.
The dishonest car salesmen calling themselves the “Winsome Welshmen”, Dunstan (Dennis Price) and Dudley (Peter Jones), were based on similar characters in a 1950s BBC radio comedy series, In All Directions, in which they were played by Peter Ustinov and Jones; their catch phrase “run for it!” was used in School for Scoundrels.
School for Scoundrels was made at Elstree Studios, and location scenes were mainly shot in the vicinity. The location used as the tennis club was then a private members club before its current incarnation as a hotel. The hotel hosted a screening in 2016 with Janette Scott attending and answering questions about filming School For Scoundrels.
The film uses vehicles as plot devices. Palfrey foolishly buys a “1924 4-litre Swiftmobile” from the crooked “Winsome Welshmen”. Later in the film he succeeds in trading the car back to them for an ex-works Austin-Healey 100-six and £100. The “Swiftmobile” was in fact based upon a 1928 4½ litre Open four-seater Bentley, with a custom two-seat open body. The car, minus the body, was sold by the studio in 1961 for £50, and re-sold (with new body) at an auction in 2003 for £110,000. The Austin-Healey 100-six used in the film was passed in at auction in the 1970s at around £30,000. The car driven by Terry-Thomas, called a “new Bellini”, is in fact a disguised Aston Martin DB3S.
After passing the British censors on 14 December 1959 School for Scoundrels premiered at the Warner Theatre in Leicester Square, London on 24 March 1960. It played there for more than a month. When the film was released in the United States on 11 July 1960, it was given the subtitle “or How to Win Without Actually Cheating!“, reflected in the US poster by Tom Jung.
The film was the 12th most popular film at the UK box office in 1960.
While the review in The Times was very noncommittal, Leslie Halliwell described the film as “an amusing trifle, basically a series of sketches by familiar comic actors”, and awarded it one star (of a maximum of four and a minimum of zero).
Michael Brooke, reviewing for the British Film Institute many years afterwards, criticised the film as having “little sign of the elegance and wit that characterised earlier Hamer films such as Kind Hearts and Coronets or The Spider and the Fly“, but praised its script and performances, particularly those of Terry-Thomas and an under-used Sim.
- BFI Screenonline: School for Scoundrels (1959) Re-linked 2014-03-03
- The Times, 24 March 1960, pages 2 (advert) and 12 (review) – found in The Times Digital Archive 2014-03-03
- BBFC: School for Scoundrels Linked 2014-03-03
- “School for Scoundrels”. alastairsim.net. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
- “Film locations for School for Scoundrels (1960)”. http://www.movie-locations.com. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
- “Happy Birthday Janette Scott! – Stylish Pop Art – Bespoke & Custom Art”. Art & Hue. 2016-12-14. Retrieved 2017-02-04.
- “The Original Swiftmobile”. web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 22 June 2008. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
- Last advertisement for School for Scoundrels at the Warner Theatre is dated 27 April 1960 (The Times 24 April 1960, page 2) – found in The Times Digital Archive on 2014-03-03
- The Times, 24 March 1960, page 16: Lifemanship of the Screen – Found in The Times Digital Archive on 2014-03-03
- Halliwell, Leslie (1996). Halliwell’s Film & Video Guide. London: Harper-Collins. p. 657. ISBN 0-00-638779-9.