Alastair Sim is one of cinema’s great faces, and not a particularly pretty one; his moonly dome and shifty, sleekit eyes made him one of cinema’s great untrustworthy characters. 1956’s The Green Man is one of his classic comedy pieces, from the Frank Lauder and Sidney Gilliat team, with Basil Dearden steering freshman Robert Day as director. That’s a seasoned team that instils confidence, and The Green Man is wild comedy that manages to be outrageous even by 2023 standards.
Based on a Lauder/Gilliat stage-play called Meet a Body, The Green Man was sold in the back of a frisky scene (you’ll actually see an unmarried man and woman hiding under a bed together!) and support roles for Sim protégé George Cole and a classic, iconic brand of British bounder in Terry Thomas, but Sim is undoubtedly the main attraction. While the black comedy is not quite as exquisite as Kind Hearts and Coronets, we have another sociopath hero, Harry Hawkins (Sim), a mad bomber who kills and kills again for fun, starting with the demise of his headmaster. The central plot involves Hawkins attempting to murder an unsuspecting cabinet minister with an explosive device; it’s dark material for a comedy for sure, but it’s somewhat alleviated by the discovery that Harry Hawkins kills not for political or mercenary reasons, but to rid the world of the boring people that clutter it up, in his mind, he’s doing society a favour.
Hawkins has to be stopped, but the forces of law and order are several jumps behind our unassuming hero William Blake (Cole) who makes a living selling one of these new fangled vacuum cleaners that looks more like a jet pack. The target is pillar of society Sir Gregory Upshott (Raymond Huntley), headed for The Green Man hotel for some on-the-clock offical government business ie the usual hanky-panky with his secretary. Hawkins ingeniously plans to time the explosion to a specific pause in the politician’s speech, which is to be broadcast that same evening on the radio. The resourceful Blake is on the case to unravel Hawkins’ scheme and Charles Boughtflower (Thomas) is amongst those confused by the busy corridors and slamming doors in the hotel.
British comedies from the 1950’s tend to be quite staid affairs, but The Green Man, much like School for Scoundrels, is still more than watchable today due to a surprising strain of anti-authoritarianism. Harry Hawkins isn’t our hero, but he’s not quite a villain either; a scene (included below) in which Sim uses his expressive eyes to seduce a group of elderly ladies who perform as the hotel’s string trio shows the comic at his eccentric, sinister best. If nothing else, The Green Man is a very British film, with Toad in the Hole, The Catering Act and other bits of local colour proudly on display; if any notions of a British brand are flagging today, back in 1956, things were in fine fettle in jovial, loquacious films like this. We simply don’t hear this kind of dialogue anymore, as Hawkins elegantly berates his hapless assistant; ‘It’s that fearsome combination of eager beaver and Scots non-conformist that makes your company so hard to bear, Angus…’
Sim was a superb actor and even as a supporting actor late in his career was apt to steal movies.
Alastair is my ride-or-die Scrooge, so this probably would be to my liking, especially being a dark comedy.
He’s one of the best ever character actors, and this is one of his best. Sure, it is dated, but good humour always wins out…
Nice to see the trailer, but I couldn’t do the whole thing. Nope. What are you non-conforming about?
What have you got?
I won’t conform to your stuff, in that case.
Scots are non-comformists? Nooooooo, say it ain’t so!!!!!
I won’t accept your bourgoise conformity!
But I will accept gold dump trucks. Jus’ sayin’….
How much do you conform to being a Scot?
As often as I can. Kilt, bagpipes, haggis, you know the drill.