Thursday, May 10, 2007


The play "Charley's Aunt" by Brandon Thomas is a famous stage farce first performed in the 1890's and still revived occasionally. The most famous film versions are the 1941 Jack Benny film and a 1956 musical version with Ray Bolger (and oddly, neither version is readily available for viewing these days). The only one I'd seen until now is a 1930 film with Charlie Ruggles, who seemed a bit too old to play the lead, an Oxford student who dresses in drag to impersonate a fellow student's aunt so his buddies can have a chaperoned visit with some co-eds--though, to be fair, Benny and Bolger were certainly no closer to the age of a real undergrad. This version, a relatively low-budget affair from England, is actually a clever variation on the play rather than a direct adaptation. Arthur Askey plays an undergrad who is playing the lead in an Oxford production of "Charley's Aunt." When he and his roomies get in trouble for some drunken shenanigans, Askey is barred from leaving his room. His friends manage to sneak him out so he can perform in the play, but the proctor (Felix Aylmer) recognizes him onstage and a merry chase ensues in the auditorium and across campus. The whole lot are threatened with being "sent down" (British term for expulsion), but when they find out that Aylmer needs $5000 to finance an Egyptian dig, they tell him a story about a visiting Aunt Lucy, who is rich and just happens to be interested in Egyptology, the assumption being that if Aylmer stops their expulsion, she'll help fund his trip. Askey dresses up as Aunt Lucy, but there are two things he doesn't know: 1) the real Aunt Lucy, related to roomie Albert (Graham Moffatt), was a barmaid in Oxford in her younger years and a few of the school masters, including Aylmer, remember her fondly; 2) she (Jeanne de Casalis) is on her way to Oxford to confront her nephew about his frivolous spending. Of course, farcial antics follow, the funniest of which involves Askey (in drag) canoeing with a flirtatious Aylmer and both of them winding up in the water. Overall, this is a fun little confection, and if you know something about "Charley's Aunt," you'll have even more fun with the references to the original, like a recurring line about "where the nuts come from" which makes no sense here otherwise. An actor named Richard Murdoch plays one of the roomies, nicknamed "Stinker," and he is billed in the credits as Richard (Stinker) Murdoch. [TCM]

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