Tue 14 Jul 2015
THE GREEN MAN. British Lion Film Corp., UK, 1956. Alistair Sim, George Cole, Terry Thomas, Jill Adams, Raymond Huntley. Screenplay: Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder,based on their play “Meet A Body.” Directed by Robert Day and Basil Deardon (the latter uncredited).
You may have Peter Sellers’ undisputed genius, you may have the brilliant Alec Guinness, you may bask in the clipped mustachio twirling urbanity of Terry Thomas, you may teeter on the edge of the brilliant pomposity and erudition of Robert Morley,and you may giggle or guffaw at Norman Wisdom, Eric Sykes, Benny Hill, or the British comic actor of your choice. I’ll take Alistair Sim.
Sim is best known for Scrooge (1951), the classic version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a seasonal favorite, and for the crossdressing genius of the film version of Ronald Searles’ cartoon madness The Bells of St. Trinian’s. Americans may know him best as Jane Wyman’s father in Alfred Hitchcock’s Stage Fright or as Inspector Cockerill in Green for Danger, and he was brilliant to the end, his last film being the cult classic The Ruling Class But he did two of the best comedic crime films ever made in that same time frame, Hue and Cry, where he plays a crime novelist who becomes involved with a group of crime fighting street urchins, and the film reviewed here, The Green Man.
Here Sim is Hawkins, who from childhood has a way with explosives, and like any sane person he follows his interest into his mature years and makes a career of his talents — blowing people up. Here the odd dictator, there the miscreant husband — anyone and everyone he is paid to dispose of with his not inconsiderable talents.
His latest victim is a pompous government minister (Raymond Huntley), who is planning a jaunt to the coast for a bit of hanky-panky at an inn called the Green Man, where Hawkins hopes to retire him from his position explosively if only everyone and his dog didn’t show up on his doorstep, including the politician while he is trying to do the deed.
Sim is a master of the slow burn, the sly grin, the quietly murderous and murderously funny frustration, the softly spoken razor sharp phrase, and the look that could kill and in this one he is up to his ears in young lovers (one of whom, comic actor George Cole, has an improvised scene with Sim where he tries to call the police, and Sim tries to stop him, that is worth watching for alone) and innocent bystanders conspiring to keep him from his appointed murderous due.
Sly is the word most often applied to Sim’s performances, and never truer than in this black comedy about a professional assassin having the bad day to end all bad days as he tries to ply his trade. Few actors ever possessed a face that expressed as much as Sim’s, or as brilliantly. He has many of the gifts of a great silent comedian, but those are in addition to his soft funeral director’s voice and flawless delivery with the skill of a surgeon’s scalpel. Find The Green Man and Hue and Cry, they really are the best of British comedy, and the best of Alistair Sim, of which there is nothing better.