We “auditioned” this British comedy for our regular Christmas classic movie list, since we had never seen it and had read that it had a lengthy sequence on Christmas Eve. We’re certainly glad we did, as it is a lovely quirky film that has a hilarious holiday conclusion.
Capt. Dandy Forsdyke (Leslie Phillips) is addicted to thievery — shoplifting jewels, picking pockets, and especially cracking safes. Trouble is his fiancé, Babette La Verne (Julie Christie), won’t marry him unless he gives up being a crook, but despite Babette’s charms, he just can’t seem to kick the habit. Then he learns about an organization called Crooks Anonymous that promises to cure him with the assistance of numerous helpful brothers/guardian angels, all of whom are similary reformed crooks. After some humorous setbacks, Forsdyke seems well on his way to going straight and lands a job as a department store Santa Claus. He ends up being locked in the department store overnight on Christmas Eve and realizes that he has access to the company safe, which he easily cracks, finding that it holds 250,000 pounds in untraceable cash. Before giving in fully to temptation, he calls one of his guardian angels, who also falls off the wagon when seeing the windfall temptation. Soon the whole Crooks Anonymous organization is ready to join in the caper. Only how do they get so much cash out of the store? They purloin Santa costumes and fill their sacks with the cash. Merry mayhem ensues.
CAST AND CREW
The cast is filled with both familiar and also rarely seen British actors. Most notable is Julie Christie in her debut film role. Most familiar will be Wilfrid Hyde-White, best known for his role as Colonel Pickering in My Fair Lady. Leslie Phillips had a long career playing quintessential English types, such as his role as RAF Officer Mac in The Longest Day. One of the bit players, Colin Gordon (the drunk emerging from the club in the Christmas Eve sequence) appeared in such notable comedies as The Man in the White Suit (1951), The Mouse That Roared (1959), and The Pink Panther (1963). The director, Ken Annakin, went on to direct parts of The Longest Day and then switched between comedies (Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines) and war pictures (Battle of the Bulge).
The most interesting part of the credits was seeing George Martin listed as music composer, along with Muir Mathieson. Yes, it is the George Martin who was soon to gain fame as the producer for The Beatles. Before working with the Fab Four, Martin had produced comedy records with the Goon Show and Peter Sellers. Martin continued to do film scores, including the James Bond film Live and Let Die (1973), whose title song was written by Paul McCartney.
WHY WE THINK WE LOVE THIS MOVIE
It features that delightfully odd sense of humor that marks so many British films: ridiculous situations filled with odd characters who take everything so very seriously while the audience sees the clever satire. It has several stylistic similarities to Comfort and Joy — one of our favorite Christmas films. And it certainly fits with the “Christmas Capers” theme of films such as Larceny, Inc. and Fitzwilly.