Tag Archives: school

The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950)

“A woman’s bookshelf is an infallible guide to her character.”

The title of the film The Happiest days of Your Life refers, of course, to the nonsense that is told to children who are unhappy about attending school for a range of reasons. What the teachers don’t say is the happy part is not the school–but perhaps the innocence of childhood, and even that’s arguable depending on the sort of childhood you had. This classic British comedy is directed by Frank Launder of the marvellously funny St Trinian’s films, and you can see the same hand at work in The Happiest Days of Your Life. Launder started his career as a scriptwriter, but it was with Sidney Gilliat that the highly successful St Trinians films were created. For The Happiest Days of Your Life, Launder teamed with playwright John Dighton to adapt his play for the big screen.

The Happiest Days of Your Life is set during WWII. During the Blitz, children from the city were evacuated to the countryside, and in the film, an all-girls school, St Swithin’s, is evacuated by the Ministry of Education to the village of Nutbourne with the expectation that St Swithin’s will ‘share’ with the all-boys boarding school, Nutbourne College. Wetherby Pond (played by the wonderful actor Alastair Sim) is headmaster of Nutborough College. The film begins with the arrival of a weary professor, Arnold Billings (played by Richard Wattis, who later appeared in the St Trinian’s films) and the brand new English professor, Richard Tassell (John Bentley). Billings notices that the college looks a bit tidier than usual, and as it turns out, this is due to the fact that Wetherby Pond is hoping to win a new, better position as headmaster at a much more prestigious, Harlingham School.

Just as the term seems on the verge of beginning as usual, all hell breaks loose with the arrival of an entire girl’s school, their headmistress, Muriel Whitchurch (Margaret Rutherford) and her complete entourage of mistresses. A battle begins over resources, and the females, led by the cunning, strategic planning of Muriel Whitchurch soon dominate. Under the insufferable conditions, Wetherby Pond tries his best to get the Ministry of Education to correct this error, and Whitchurch resorts to blackmail in order to gain an uneasy truce.

The fun really begins when a passel of St Swithin’s parents descend upon the Nutbourne College to witness the new environment for themselves. As bad luck would have it on the very same day, a team of inspectors from Harlingham School arrive to witness Wetherby Pond’s school management. It’s in the vested interest of both Pond and Whitchurch to cooperate with each other to create an atmosphere of normalcy at the school, and that means that the girls and the boy’s school both pretend that there are no members of the opposite sex on the premises.

Alastair Sim is, as always, pure joy to watch–from his long-suffering submission, to his moral outrage, his performance is perfect. Margaret Rutherford, as his administrative opposite is equally excellent. She plays an indomitable force–she sees men as superfluous and contaminants. The battle (and attraction) of the sexes plays throughout the film. Of course, the boys cannot concentrate on lessons when the older girls wiggle by in their PE outfits, and the male English master falls in love with his female counterpart. And then there’s the outrageously wonderful Joyce Grenfell (who also later appeared in St Trinian’s). Here she plays the gauche Miss Gossage (“call me Sausage“) and she rather incongruously sets her cap at the suave wolfish games master, Victor Hyde-Brown (Guy Middleton), who’s also known as “Whizzo.” Hyde-Brown does his best to avoid Miss Gossage–he’s much more interested in the 17 year-olds and their botany lesson. George Cole also appears in a miniscule but memorable role as a caretaker in the Ministry of Education.

Quotes:

Wetherby Pond (when asked how he will vote): “You can tell your lady that if there is a male candidate whether he is conservative, socialist, communist or anarchist, or for that matter, liberal, he may have my vote.”

“There appear to be no depths to which you will not sink.”

“I don’t want your sympathy, man, I want action. I want these women removed, bag and baggage.”

“There are only two types of schoolmistress, chum, the battle-ax and the amazon.”

“Cards, the race horse,gaming, nicotine, fisticuffs…we’re moving in a descending spiral of inequity.”

“I once won thirty bob. It’s led me astray ever since

 

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Filed under British, Comedy

Zero de Conduite (1933)

 “Do you want a zero in conduct?”

French director Jean Vigo made only two feature length films (and two short films) before dying at the age 29. L’Atalante is an much acclaimed film–but Zero de Conduite has fallen into obscurity. Upon its release, Zero de Conduite–a short tale of schoolboy rebellion–was banned in France. Perhaps it was judged too subversive–Vigo’s father Eugene Bonaventure de Vigo (AKA Miguel Almareyda) was in his youth, a prominent anarchist. Vigo’s father later abandoned his anarchist beliefs, became mired in some shady political activities, and was murdered in jail.

zero-de-conduiteThe film begins with the return of various schoolboys to a strict boarding school. The school environment serves as a microcosm of French society–with those in charge, corrupt and dictatorial. The boys live on a diet on beans, and teachers search for sweets, which are then confiscated. The teachers threaten the boys with the dreaded “zero in conduct” if they misbehave, and of course, that principle only works if one cares about such things. It’s not long before three troublemakers–instigators Bruel, Caussat, and Colin–are identified. The film depicts a number of ridiculous rigid rules, and the boys’ reaction to them. While one teacher is tolerant–the Chaplinesque Huguet–other teachers are notoriously strict. One of the teachers even seems to have a questionable taste for one of the boys. After a particularly trivial infraction, the boys lead a revolt against authority on alumni day. In one unforgettable scene, a pillow fight rains feathers down on the rebellious boys as they somersault in a crowded dormitory.

Unfortunately, this is a terrible print. One scene takes place in a railway station at night, and it’s very difficult to make out some of the action. The sound is crackly, and white splotches appear on the print. In spite of all this, however, the film evokes the magical, irrepressible spirit of childhood, and it certainly revived the ecstasy of my rebellious schooldays. In French with English subtitles

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Filed under France, Jean Vigo, Political/social films, Silent