The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery (1966)

“It’s an orgy!”

The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery is the fourth and final film in the extremely popular St Trinian’s comedy series. For those who don’t know, St Trinian’s School for Girls was first created by cartoonist Ronald Searle, and the cartoons became the basis for the films.

When the film begins, St Trinian’s School for Girls is homeless once again–this is the result of three arson fires in four years. Currently camped out in an army barracks and “living like refugees,” the school is on the brink of collapse.

Meanwhile, it’s Election Night in Britain. With the advent of a new Labour Party Government, officials at the Ministry of Education (normally Tories) anticipate broad cuts in private schools, so a celebration is underway with the employees at the ministry partying the night away as they predict the closure of St Trinian’s, the notorious all-girls school. But it seems that the celebration is a little premature–little do they know that the headmistress, Amber Spottiswood (Dora Bryan) counts the new Labour Minister of Education as one of her many lovers.

With 80,000 pounds in hand (a grant from the very friendly Minister), Miss Spottiswood is able to revive St Trinian’s yet again. Miss Spottiswood purchases a new home, the abandoned Hamingwell Grange for her ‘progessive education’ school and summons her merry band of mistresses to join her. The Mathematics Mistress leaves her card-sharp life, the French Mistress creeps away from “modelling,” the Arts Mistress gives up stripping, the Games Mistress abandons the professional wrestling ring, and the Deputy Headmistress is released just in time from Holloway jail to join the rest of the crew.

As the St Trinian’s girls settle in their new home, they are blissfully unaware that 2.5 million pounds is secreted away in the cellar by a gang of thieves led by hairdresser Alphonse of Monte Carlo (Frankie Howerd). And it becomes Alphonse’s mission–guided by Mr. Big who sends messages through the salon’s sterilizer–to recoup the money. Meanwhile disgruntled school inspectors–convinced that orgies commence nightly at St Trinian’s–bravely volunteer for a secret mission…

This is the fourth–and unfortunately–the last film in the original St Trinian’s series, and the only colourized film in the bunch. Made in the 60s, it has a very different feel to the other St Trinian’s films, and as fans of British 60s comedies know, The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery stars many of the great talents from that period–comedienne Dora Bryan as the dotty headmistress Amber Spottiswood is a joy to watch as she slips from her upper class accent (when she placates and manipulates the minister) to her working class voice as she empties the wallets of parents on Parents’ Day. Some of the best scenes involve Dora Bryan (her bedroom is decorated like a brothel) and her “mad Machiavellian minister.” Parents’ Day is an incredible event with the St Trinian’s girls at their worst as they fleece any parent they can. Lecherous Frankie Howerd is perfect as the obsequious, slimy hairdresser, Alphonse, who takes a turn as a Morris dancer and comedian Reg Varney appears in a small role as a crook. George Cole returns as Flash Harry, and this time he builds a bookie’s office with a special children’s entrance–and the office includes counters set at different heights so the smaller third form girls can bet their pocket money on the gee-gees too.

The film is a thinly veiled reference to the real Great Train Robbery that took place in 1963. One of the best things about the film is that it illustrates the girls’ resourcefulness and independence, so in the ‘bigger’ scheme of things, the ‘education in life’ that they receive at St Trinian’s is valuable. At no point in the film do the girls contact the ‘authorities’ for help, and the headmistress doesn’t hesitate to direct the girls in her schemes against anyone who threatens “our happy days.” The film also creates parallel scenes of the crooks gathering and the girls gathering, and the implication is that the girls of St Trinian’s form a larger, formidable gang. Check out the book titles for the school library; The Perfumed Garden, The Carpetbaggers, Fanny Hill and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Great stuff–a classic–and a must-see for fans of 60s British comedy. Directed and written by the team Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder.

Some quotes:

“Lovely untamed egghead!”
“Just some young bucks visiting the sixth form, I expect.”
“They’re only a bunch of schoolkids.”
“10,000? That’s not a reward, that’s a deterrent .”

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