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Some Will, Some Won't (1969)


Some Will, Some Won't is a remake of the 1951 comedy Laughter in Paradise. The story centres on four people who are all beneficiaries in the will of a recently deceased relative, Henry Russell (Wilfrid Brambell).

Russell was a famous prankster, and was hanging from the clock tower of Big Ben, trying to add some extra bongs to the chimes, when he fell into the River Thames to a watery grave. His not-too-distressed relatives gather for the reading of the will, which the forward-thinking Russell has arranged to deliver from beyond the grave, via a recorded message.

Russell tells the four that they will each inherit £150,000, not a bad sum for 1969. They are all ecstatic - until he spells out the conditions. Meek and mild bank clerk Herbert (Ronnie Corbett) will have to stage an armed hold up at his bank and put the frighteners on his imperious boss, Mr Wagstaff (John Nettleton). Lurid pulp fiction author Deniston (Michael Hordern) will have to commit a real crime and go to prison for at least 28 days. Bossy harridan Agnes (Thora Hird), who is habitually rude and demanding of hotel staff, will get a taste of her own medicine, having to do 4 weeks work as a maid in an hotel. And louche ladies' man Simon (Leslie Phillips) has to get married - to the first single woman he speaks to.



Michael Hordern in a department store in Some Will, Some Won't
Light-fingered Deniston Russell (Michael Hordern), hoping to get himself arrested

Laughter in Paradise was one of a number of British comedies made in the 1950s by Italian-born director-producer Mario Zampi. Others included Top Secret (1952), Happy Ever After (1954), The Naked Truth (1957) and Too Many Crooks (1958).

Some Will, Some Won't was produced by Giulio Zampi, who I'm going to guess was probably Mario's son. Giulio had previously worked as an editor and later an associate producer on some of Mario's films in the 1950s. The family are name-checked in Some Will, Some Won't in a bar called "Zampi's", where Leslie Phillips' and Barbara Murray's characters meet.

Laughter in Paradise was a droll romp, but the scenario is starting to look a little stale nearly 20 years later. Lew Schwarz's script sticks very closely to Jack Davies' and Michael Pertwee's original for Laughter in Paradise without adding anything much at all. That leaves this re-run left looking a little redundant, and the final twist is particularly obvious in this version.

The casting isn't bad though, and it does offer some compensations, even if the actors are all working comfortably within their established personas. Ronnie Corbett has the least to work with as the meek Herbert, who is not really characterised beyond being a mild-mannered bank clerk. This role was played by a young George Cole in Laughter in Paradise.

Ronnie Corbett of course was very short, so this does most of the work in setting his character up as slight and unthreatening. Corbett would get a lead role in the film version of No Sex Please - We're British in 1973 and had appeared in the Bond spoof Casino Royale in 1967, but otherwise he was mostly confined to television, where he was teamed with Ronnie Barker in the sketch show The Two Ronnies (1971-87). Although he is credited first in much of the film's publicity material, this is down to the luck of the alphabet, and his is the least interesting of the main characters or performances in the film.


Noel Howlett, Thora Hird,  Michael Hordern, Leslie Phillips and Ronnie Corbett
The cast line up for this lobby card: Noel Howlett, Thora Hird,
Michael Hordern, Leslie Phillips and Ronnie Corbett

Thora Hird has a meatier part as an unpleasant old battleaxe forced to work as a skivvy for an equally unpleasant battleaxe. Although her character is never that sympathetic and she doesn't learn anything from her experience, Hird does at least get some bits of physical comedy to occupy her. This part has less pathos, and is played more for laughs, than the one played by Fay Compton in the original film.

As ladies' man Simon Russell, Leslie Phillips makes an obvious substitute for Guy Middleton in Laughter in Paradise. A fixture in British comedy in the 1950s and '60s, Phillips is predictably cast as the man-about-town philanderer, with his own '60s bachelor pad (all that's missing is a lava lamp), although he does seem like he's getting a bit too old for this sort of thing by now.

His character also has his own butler, Benson (Dennis Price), a Bertie Woosterish touch, that seems like a hangover from the period of the original film, rather than a genuine 1960s element. Dennis Price had even played Jeeves opposite Ian Carmichael as Bertie Wooster in a contemporary TV series, so maybe that inspired his casting here.

The best performance in the film comes from Michael Hordern, who also gets the best part as Deniston Russell. Deniston is a retired army officer, who supplements his pension by writing pulpy crime novels, and who is secretly adored by his starstruck secretary Sheila, played by Sheila Steafel.

Hordern brings a wounded dignity to the role, which is distinct from Alastair Sim's undisguised self-loathing in Laughter in Paradise. Alastair Sim, though, is an impossible act to follow, and he was the highlight of the original film. Hordern's scenes never reach the same heights, partly because he was definitely a character actor, whereas Sim was more of a character star, who could easily upstage everyone around him. Sim also had a gift for physical comedy, one that was used well in Laughter in Paradise, if not elsewhere. That's a talent that Hordern, although otherwise an excellent character actor, doesn't seem to share.

The supporting cast also includes Arthur Lowe as the police sergeant Hordern consults for criminal advice, and James Robertson Justice as his character's prospective father-in-law. The latter is a magistrate, making it inevitable that the jail-tempting Deniston is going to run into him at some point.

One moderately pleasing touch is that Hordern's unyielding fiancée Elizabeth is played by Eleanor Summerfield, who played Deniston's adoring secretary in the 1951 film. The part of the fiancée was played in the original by Joyce Grenfell, though, and she's another tough act to follow.


Thora Hird, Brian Oulton and Diana King
Agnes Russell (Thora Hird), Mr Dale (Brian Oulton) and Mrs Craik (Diana King)

Some Will, Some Won't was made by the Zampis' company Transocean and by Associated British, formerly one of the big beasts of the British film industry. The film was part of Associated British's last production slate before the company was taken over by EMI in 1969.

The production is a little threadbare with no frills and it's relatively plainly staged by Duncan Wood, who had previously worked on television as a producer on the sitcoms Hancock's Half Hour (1956-60) and Steptoe and Son (1962-74). Screenwriter Lew Schwarz had also mostly worked in TV and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the film does have a distinct feel of the small screen about it.

The film isn't especially attractively photographed by Harry Waxman, although existing prints aren't the best quality so we should probably cut it some slack there. But the photography can't disguise the fact that most of the street scenes are obviously filmed on interior studio sets. Howard Blake's score works hard to inject some zest into the film, although comedy isn't really his usual scene, and he can't stop the film from feeling distinctly flat at times.

The film is also lumbered with that unappealing title, but the title probably sums up the hesitant nature of Some Will, Some Won't. It feels like a film made to fill part of a production quota, one that might make some money back without anyone risking very much. Some people will like it, and some won't, but at least no one expended too much money or effort on it.

The film's main interest lies in seeing a different set of actors take on these roles and try, in some cases, to put a slightly different spin on them. Despite some decent actors, though, none of them manage to outshine their counterparts in the original and the film struggles to get the laughs it should. The story beats and twists also seem a little predictable by now and Some Will, Some Won't inevitably pales beside its superior predecessor, Laughter in Paradise.

Some Will, Some Won't

Year: 1969
Genre: Comedy
Country: UK
Director: Duncan Wood

Cast  Ronnie Corbett (Herbert Russell), Thora Hird (Agnes Russell), Michael Hordern (Deniston Russell), Barbara Murray (Lucille), Leslie Phillips (Simon Russell), Wilfrid Brambell (Henry Russell), Dennis Price (Benson), James Robertson Justice (Sir Charles Robson), Sheila Steafel (Sheila Wilcott), Eleanor Summerfield (Elizabeth Robson), Arthur Lowe (Police Sergeant), Noel Davis (Stewart), Toni Gilpin (Miss Heath), Harold Goodwin (Williams), Noel Howlett (Endicott), Diana King (Mrs Craik), Stephen Lewis (P.C. Arthur), Norman Mitchell (Policeman), John Nettleton (Wagstaff), Brian Oulton (Mr Dale), Toni Palmer (Kitty), Frank Thornton (Purvis), David Lander (Ricci), Claire Davenport (Blowzy woman), Robin Tolhurst (Lettie), Vicki Woolf (Janine)

Screenplay Lew Schwarz, based on Laughter in Paradise by Jack Davies and Michael Pertwee  Producer Giulio Zampi  Cinematography Harry Waxman  Production designer Ivan King  Editor Gerry Hambling  Music Howard Blake

Running time 87 mins  Colour Technicolor

Production company Associated British Productions, Transocean Films  Distributor Warner-Pathe Distributors (UK)

Comments

  1. I actually haven't seen this movie but have Laughter in Paradise which is a charming comedy. Sounds like I don't need to bother with the remake. I always wonder who thinks unnecessary remakes are a good idea. Psycho (1998) comes to mind.

    As you say the reason the original worked so fine is Alastair Sim. I just watched Green For Danger where he doesn't show up until halfway through the film and then steals it away from everyone else. He was a very special actor.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In this case I think the remake was probably seen as a low-risk way of filling up a production quota.

      Alastair Sim is one of the all-time greats and an inveterate scene-stealer. Does he really turn up that late in Green for Danger? I remember him completely dominating it, which shows you how good he was at upstaging everyone else. There are some other very good performances in Green for Danger, but hardly anyone ever remembers them because of Alastair Sim.

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    2. I checked again and it takes about 40 minutes into the film until he turns up. Green For Danger has many good performances, but you mostly remember him.

      Delete
    3. That's surprisingly late. I would have guessed he appeared after 15-20 minutes or so.

      Delete

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