Thu 14 Nov 2013
THE WRONG BOX. Salamander Film Corp., UK, 1966. Michael Caine, Nanette Newman, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Ralph Richardson, John Mills, Peter Sellers, Wilfred Lawson, Tony Hancock. Director-producer: Brian Forbes. Based on the book by Robert Louis Stevenson & Lloyd Osbourne. [Osbourne was Stevenson's stepson.]
This 1966 version of The Wrong Box is a movie graced by the beetle-like humor of Dudley Moore and a perfect caricature of a fact-spouting pedant, played by Ralph Richardson.
The film is not as good as the sum of its parts, and is not particularly enhanced by a romantic subplot involving Michael Caine and a forgettable British actress, but the manic attempts of two members of the inimitable “Beyond the Fringe” company, Moore and Peter Cook, to make certain that their uncle, played by Richardson, is the last surviving member of a “tontine” and, thus, inheritor of a fortune of some one hundred thousand pounds, are often very funny.
Cook is the fast-talking “brains” of the team, constantly maneuvering around the sweet-talking bumbling of overactive Lothario Moore, but Moore gets the best line. After it is pointed out that Cook has altered a death dertificate but inadvertently put on the next day’s date, Moore comments, “here today, gone tomorrow,” a perfectly logical statement in the context of this zany Victorian comedy.
It is one of the few films I have seen in which the line “the butler did it” is uttered to truly comic effect, and the final scene is a triumph of comic miscalculations that somehow seem inevitable and right.
A funny take-off on caper-and-chase films, The Wrong Box did not find much of an audience in this country in its original release and is sometimes hampered by a too-obvious and arch adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson original story by the America scriptwriters, but the talented cast surmounts most of the weaknesses, and the film is worth watching for.
Editorial Comment: My own review of this film, posted here on this blog almost six years ago (!) agrees with Walter in all but one important aspect.