MY LEARNED FRIEND. Ealing, 1943. Will Hay, Claude Hulbert, Mervyn Johns, and Ernest Thesiger. Written by Angus MacPhail & John Dighton. Directed by Basil Dearden & Will Hay. Currently streaming on Plex.

   Will Hay — for reasons that escape me — was an enduring star of British stage, screen and airwaves. His observations seem obvious to me, his delivery deliberate, and his timing tortuous. Still, you can’t argue with Success (Or rather, you can, but It won’t listen,) he made a score of well-received films, and I actually enjoyed this one.

   Hay stars as Will Fitch, a former barrister brought up on charges of fraud, who easily gets himself acquitted with a flurry of wheezy old jokes, then invites the flummoxed Crown Prosecutor, fittingly named Claude Babbington, back to his digs for a drink.

   But there they are confronted by a recently released felon gone mad (a delightfully miscast Mervyn Johns, whom you may remember as Bob Cratchit to Alastair Sim’s Scrooge.) who has sworn to kill everyone who had a hand in sending him up, and just wants to give Hay a heads-up you know, because he’s last on the list.

   Duly alarmed, Fitch and Babbington set about trying to thwart the madman by getting to his prospective victims first, following clues he has thoughtfully provided them. All they manage, though, is to arrive late or at the wrong places and get themselves suspected and ultimately hunted by Scotland Yard.

   It’s a tenuous concept for a comedy, but it gets more than its share of laughs, mostly because Babbington, Fitch’s partner in not-solving crimes is played by veteran comic actor Claude Hulbert.

   Hulbert specialized in playing the Silly Ass, and even essayed a turn as Algy Longworth in Bulldog Jack (aka: Alias Bulldog Drummond). Everyone involved had the wisdom to give him free rein here, and he’s simply and completely hilarious, even when the jokes are not. Indeed, he gets a tour de force dance number that he handles with amazing gracefulness (sorry) and split-second timing.

   Friend ultimately devolves into a farcical set-to inside an explosive-laden Big Ben, but by that time I had surrendered to Hulbert’s charm and found myself enjoying this nonsense in spite of myself. You might, too.