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Blue Murder at St. Trinian's (1957)


The Belles of St. Trinian's had been a big box office success on its release in 1954, so the producers Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat decided to follow up with a sequel, Blue Murder at St. Trinian's, something that turned St. Trinian's from a popular comedy film into a long-running series.

The plot of Blue Murder at St. Trinian's is even more convoluted than that of the original film. St. Trinian's has now become such a haven of mischief and mayhem that the army have been called in to take charge and cordon off the school. In command is Thorley Walters as a Major who has been given the task of overseeing "Operation St. Trinians". The Ministry of Education has also found a tough new headmistress to take over, the no-nonsense Dame Maud Hackshaw (Judith Furse), previously the governor of a borstal.

The pupils, though, have other ideas. In the film's most dubious development, the spiv "Flash" Harry (George Cole) is now running the St. Trinian's Marriage Bureau, finding eligible, and preferably very wealthy, husbands for the school's sixth formers. Prince Bruno (Guido Lorraine), one of the most eligible men in Europe, has decided that he likes the look of all of the sixth formers, but would like to meet them in person to make his choice.


That could be a problem in the middle of the school term, but Harry and the sixth form girls find a way to get to Italy by cheating in a schools essay competition. The girls break into the Ministry of Education and change their test results, making them the unlikely winners. As a result, they will win the prize, sponsored by UNESCO, of a tour of Europe, taking in France, Germany and eventually Italy.

Meanwhile, one of the girl's fathers, jewel thief Joe Mangan (Lionel Jeffries), appears at the school, on the run and seeking temporary shelter after carrying out a daring diamond robbery in Hatton Garden. The girls agree to shelter him, but on one condition. He must take the place of Dame Maud and pretend to be their new headmistress.

Mangan reluctantly tags along in drag to avoid arrest, but the local police Superintendent (Lloyd Lamble) and his long term fiancée Ruby Gates (Joyce Grenfell) saw him heading for the school and now realise that he is the prime suspect in the jewel robbery. They suspect that the school tour to Europe is part of his getaway plan, but can't tell anyone else, as they were illicitly canoodling in the back of a police car when they saw him. So the Superintendent persuades Ruby to go undercover with the school tour as a translator.

Also joining the tour of Europe is Captain, or perhaps more likely "Captain", Carlton-Ricketts (Terry-Thomas), owner of the Dreadnought Motor Traction Company. His is the only coach company desperate enough to take on the job of transporting St. Trinian's around Europe, even if it is at the very last minute. ("Friday? That's a bit adjacent, isn't it?") When he realises that he's been tricked into ferrying the St. Trinian's girls around, Carlton-Ricketts is aghast, although unbowed - "Dreadnought by name, dreadnought by nature".

Carlton-Ricketts has to drive one of his clapped-out coaches himself, but there are compensations. Particularly when Ruby tells him about the inheritance she's expecting from her grandmother, something that causes him to see her in an entirely new light. Of equal interest is the news that a jewel thief may be among them on the tour, and that there's a £10,000 reward for his capture.


Although Alastair Sim is fourth billed in Blue Murder at St. Trinian's, the opening titles are honest enough to announce that Alastair Sim "returns briefly as Miss Amelia Fritton". And yes, it is very brief. He has one moment early on when we see his character behind bars in a prison cell, and then a second scene at the end, when he welcomes the girls back to the school, explaining that he has also just returned from "a vacation".

The film doesn't care to explain exactly why Miss Fritton has been imprisoned, but stranger still is a huge and hard to believe continuity error, since the name of Sim's character in The Belles of St. Trinian's was Millicent Fritton, and not Amelia. It seems unlikely that Amelia is yet another member of the Fritton family, so presumably Launder and Gilliat just forgot what her name was the first time.

Alastair Sim was the undoubted star of The Belles of St. Trinian's, in his dual role as the headmistress Miss Fritton and her dubious brother Clarence. His absence from most of Blue Murder at St. Trinian's would seem like a disastrous loss, and likely to imperil the continuation of the series. And yet, Blue Murder at St. Trinian's manages to succeed even without the star of the first film

It does this by bringing back the other cast members who made The Belles of St. Trinian's work, in particular George Cole as Flash Harry and Joyce Grenfell as policewoman Ruby Gates. Flash Harry helps to drive the plot this time, in his role as proprietor of the St. Trinian's Marriage Bureau. Harry is now looking slightly more flush, although just as cheap. He seems to have adopted a Teddy Boy style of dress and has a car, a bubble car - always a popular choice for a comedy car in this period.


Cole also gets an amusing scene in what must be an early example of the joke where an English speaker tries to translate his English into a foreign language, without realising that the foreigner (in this case, Ferdy Mayne as a policeman) can speak fluent English anyway and is translating it back into English for him.

Another supporting player from the first film, Joyce Grenfell, is given a lot more to do this time and is allowed to shine in Blue Murder at St. Trinian's, whether it's going all gooey over Carlton-Ricketts, attempting to play the spy, or kitting up with mountaineering gear, a camping stove and a Union Jack for her coach tour of Europe.

The wonderfully expressive Grenfell is hilarious and sympathetic as the perpetually disappointed Ruby, continually strung along by her extremely reluctant fiancé. This film even reveals that the pair have now been engaged for fourteen years. As Carlton-Ricketts says, "Fourteen! Well that's not decent." "Yes it is," cries the frustrated Ruby, "it's terribly decent!"

When her fiancé and superior, Superintendent Kemp-Bird, asks her to go back undercover at St. Trinian's, poor Ruby protests most strongly:

Ruby Gates: How can you humiliate me like this? I'm an Englishwoman, with all the feelings of an Englishwoman!

Superintendent: Ruby, dear, everything now rests on us catching this criminal. Don't you see that?

Ruby Gates: Yes I do, but I wish it could be someone else. I just don't feel competent.

Superintendent: You're not. But there isn't anyone else.


Blue Murder at St. Trinian's also adds a new star to the series, the inimitable gap-toothed comic actor Terry-Thomas as "Captain" Carlton-Ricketts. Carlton-Ricketts, with his flat cap and blazer with a possibly phoney regimental badge, and barely disguised enthusiasm for Ruby's impending inheritance, is a recognisable Terry-Thomas type, combining his traditional caddish persona with an air of gentility gone to seed.

There is dismay as well at the prospect of having to deal with hordes of St. Trinian's girls, something that allows Terry-Thomas to give one of his trademark horrified reaction shots. The film also gets mileage out of the run down state of his characters' coach fleet, with Carlton-Ricketts telling his assistant, as he surveys his two wrecked coaches: "Charlie, you'd better give them a run over with a damp cloth."

The film could perhaps make more use of Terry-Thomas, but he was still relatively new to films at this time. He had come to fame in his TV series How Do You View?, and followed that with supporting roles in Launder and Gilliat's production The Green Man in 1956 (with Alastair Sim and George Cole) and the Boulting brothers' Private's Progress in the same year, subsequently becoming part of the latter's stock company of actors in the late 1950s. Terry-Thomas evidently had a good agent at this time, as he is top billed in Blue Murder at St. Trinian's, despite not even appearing until more than 40 minutes into the film, which is almost half way through.

Someone else who obviously had a good agent is Sabrina, who appears high in the cast list as a "Guest Artist", but only has a couple of scenes in the film and no lines. Sabrina was a busty blonde bombshell who was something of a pop culture obsession for Britain's comedians in the mid-1950s. The joke in Blue Murder at St. Trinian's is that the glamorous Sabrina is playing the school swot, whose favourite pastime is curling up with a good book. As a result, she is required simply to sit in bed pretending to read, while Lionel Jeffries gets hot under the collar at her very presence.

The presence of Sabrina in the cast attests to a not entirely welcome development in the St. Trinian's films. While The Belles of St. Trinian's kept innuendo to a minimum, from the second film onwards the films would start to exaggerate the sexiness of the school's older girls.


The clearest indication of this is the fact that the plot is predicated on Flash Harry now running a marriage bureau for the St. Trinian's girls, brandishing an album of photos of the school's sixth formers wearing bikinis, with each picture giving the girl's age and vital statistics. That the ages of the girls are given as 16 or 17 seems a bit awkward now.

As the Italian bachelor Prince flips through Harry's album of students, there is even a picture of a group of girls with SOLD written across it, as they have all been chosen to be the wives of a sultan ("Mohammedan, of course. All on the level").

At one point, one of the army officers sent to the school is found in the dark with one of the sixth form girls sitting on his lap, and in a later scene the sixth formers are lounging around their Italian hotel room in their scanties.

The idea of an eligible European Prince on the lookout for a wife is probably inspired by Prince Rainier of Monaco and his 1956 marriage to Grace Kelly. There's even a joke in the film that the girls need to meet the Prince before a female film star, who is flying in from Hollywood, gets to him first.

In this film there is also a much clearer delineation between the younger girls, the mischievous, anarchic fourth formers and the older ones, the sexy sixth formers. The sixth formers all wear stockings and suspenders with their uniforms and are played by considerably older actresses.

Presumably this was because of the more risqué humour in this film, but there's now an age chasm between the fourth form and the sixth form, as the latter are all played by actresses about a decade older. The sexpots of the sixth form now look less like the younger girls' older sisters and more like their mothers.

The sixth formers in Blue Murder at St. Trinian's include future Carry On actresses Dilys Laye and Rosalind Knight (on her first of three St. Trinian's films) and Italian model and actress Lisa Gastoni, who appeared in several British comedies in this perod.


The unruly younger girls get less screen time in this film and quite a lot of the film is not even set in St. Trinian's School. This is understandable, though, as the tearaway schoolgirls premise of the first film is a bit of a one-joke one, and certainly couldn't have sustained a film series on its own.

As well as Cole and Grenfell, the returning actors include Richard Wattis as Manton Bassett, the man from the Ministry who is glad to finally be free of St. Trinian's - until he finds himself roped in yet again. Eric Barker makes his first appearance as another Ministry man, Culpepper Brown, and there's a running joke about the workmen making themselves comfortable, while supposedly fixing the hole in his office floor after the St. Trinian's break-in. Barker would appear in the next two St. Trinian's films, while Wattis would skip the next one and make his third and final appearance in the fourth film, The Great St. Trinian's Train Robbery in 1966.

Thorley Walters makes his first of three appearances in this series, in this film as the commander of the army unit cordoning off St. Trinian's, although in later films he would appear as another of the civil servants.

Another actor who returns from the first film is Michael Ripper. Ripper is familiar to Hammer horror fans for his frequent appearances in Hammer films, and he had a small role in The Belles of St. Trinian's as a jockey. Blue Murder at St. Trinian's sees him in a more high profile comic role as a lift attendant, forced to accompany the school tour on threat of losing his pension. He is nominally in charge of the tour but is, of course, a fish totally out of water in these foreign climes ("If it gets any hotter I shall have to take me pullover off"). This character has shades of a Peter Sellers character, Willium "Mate" Cobblers, who used to turn up in the most unlikely places in contemporary Goon Shows.

Both Michael Ripper and George Cole sound as if they were pressed into service in additional roles as policemen on the other end of a squad car radio. During the break-in at the Ministry of Education, two policemen outside receive an emergency call. The voice at the other end of the line sounds like George Cole, although much more well spoken than he is as Flash Harry, which makes it sound to begin with as if it's some kind of a trick by Harry. Michael Ripper sounds like the voice at the other end of another police radio in a later scene.


The break-in scene at the Ministry, with the girls making a hole in the office floor and using an umbrella to catch the falling debris, looks like a nod to the celebrated robbery scene in the 1955 Jules Dassin film Rififi.

As the jewel thief and father of student Myrna, Lionel Jeffries gets various bits of comic business, including disguising himself as a woman. The fact that this sequel to a film where the male star drags up to play a headmistress features another man dragging up to play a headmistress, feels like a self-referential in-joke. Or, if we're being uncharitable, simply a repeat of the joke from the first film.

Lionel Jeffries is also central to the film's climax, as he is chased by the pupils through the streets of Rome. This Italian location filming suggests that this must have been one of the more expensive St. Trinian's films, as Jeffries is pursued past the Colosseum and along Rome's surprisingly empty streets. A brief stop at the Colosseum allows the film to indulge in a fanciful but irrelevant dream sequence, as Jeffries imagines the St. Trinian's girls taking on an army of gladiators.

In keeping with the continental nature of the plot of this one, I'll mention that several French film websites inform me that the French title of this film was Fric frac à gogo, which does have a certain ring to it.

Although The Belles of St. Trinian's is usually seen as the best film in this series, Blue Murder at St. Trinian's is of comparable quality, and even improves on the first film in some ways. Remarkably, the film manages to overcome the severe shortage of Alastair Sim, by keeping a prominent role for George Cole, by giving Joyce Grenfell much more to do, and by adding the incomparable Terry-Thomas to the mix.

Admittedly, the films are becoming less about St. Trinian's School now, and more a reunion of the various comic actors and characters that the producers have managed to assemble. But when the performers are on as good form as this, that's much more of a plus than a minus.

George Cole and Joyce Grenfell would return, along with Eric Barker, Thorley Walters and Michael Ripper, in the third film in the series The Pure Hell of St. Trinian's in 1960.


Blue Murder at St. Trinian's

Year: 1957
Genre: Comedy, Crime
Country: UK
Director: Frank Launder

Cast Terry-Thomas (Romney Carlton-Ricketts), George Cole ('Flash' Harry), Joyce Grenfell (Ruby Gates), Alastair Sim (Miss Fritton), Lionel Jeffries (Joe Mangan), Eric Barker (Culpepper Brown), Richard Wattis (Manton Bassett), Thorley Walters (Army Major), Lloyd Lamble (Superintendent Samuel Kemp-Bird), Michael Ripper (Eric, The Liftman), Judith Furse (Dame Maud Hackshaw), Lisa Gastoni (Myrna Mangan), Jose Read (Cynthia Meadows), Dilys Laye (Bridget Strong), Rosalind Knight (Annabel), Pat Laurence (Mavis), Marigold Russell (Marjorie), Vikki Hammond (Jane Osborne), Sabrina (Virginia), Raymond Rollett (Chief Constable), Terry Scott (Police Sergeant), Ferdy Mayne (Italian Police Inspector), Cyril Chamberlain (Captain), Ronald Ibbs (Lieutenant), Kenneth Griffith (Charlie Bull), Peter Jones (Prestwick), Lisa Lee (Miss Brenner), Guido Lorraine (Prince Bruno), Alma Taylor (Prince Bruno's Mother), Peter Elliott (Equerry), Charles Lloyd Pack (Henry Roberts, Prison Governor), Nicola Braithwaite (Daphne), Janet Bradbury (Mercia), Amanda Coxell (Tilly), Moya Francis (Bissy)

Screenplay Frank Launder, Val Valentine, Sidney Gilliat  Producers Frank Launder, Sidney Gilliat  Cinematography Gerald Gibbs  Art director Allan Harris  Editor Geoffrey Foot  Music Malcolm Arnold

Running time 86 mins (black & white)

Production company John Harvel Productions, in association with British Lion Films  Distributor British Lion (UK)


See also: The Belles of St. Trinian's (1954)

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