Sunday, July 03, 2011


The Reverend Smallwood (Peter Sellers) is a prison chaplain who is appointed head at the parish of a small English village. The appointment is an accident—he's the wrong Smallwood—but no one catches it at first. Smallwood is a genial type, but he's upset that the town seems too concerned with money and comfort and not enough with basic Christian values like love and charity. He hires a black garbageman (Brock Peters) as his assistant, lets a large and obnoxious homeless family live at the vicarage, and insults the rich Lady Despard, whose family owns a company that has made a fortune with a wonder pill called Tranquilax (it's a sedative, a stimulant, and a laxative). Surprisingly he gets Lady Despard on his side and she offers to give him all her farm’s excess food (and extra drug products from the company) to give away to the needy. Soon, however, all the town's residents are taking advantage of the offer, and with no one buying anything, the local economy goes belly up, as does the drug company when Smallwood starts disparaging Tranquilax from the pulpit. Eventually, the town turns against Smallwood; he is relieved of his duties and appointed to become the first vicar of outer space. Yes, outer space.

This seems for a while like it's going to go in a heartwarming Capra direction, but the satire, which is directed at virtually all the characters, even Smallwood, is too biting and cynical for that, and the narrative goes off in unexpected directions. The homeless family, which you assume will become pleasant and stand on its own two feet, remains lazy and unlikable; Lady Despard's conversion is surprisingly genuine, and the mild-mannered assistant doesn't have the fortitude to remain by Smallwood's side. Even Smallwood loses his heroic sheen and seems like a naïve boob by the end. Overlong and not for all tastes, but an interestingly bitter little comedy. [TCM]

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