Back in ancient times, Aladdin grew old and called on his genie (Alastair Sim) one last time by rubbing his lamp. He told him that this would be their final chance to talk together, therefore what should he do with the lamp so that it never fell into the wrong hands? The genie answered that he should bury it where it will never be found, which Aladdin did, and lo it was undiscovered for centuries - until 1937 where by a succession of incidents it wound up melted down and turned into a button. But the genie was still within, awaiting the signal to re-emerge...
So who better to get to use his services than The Crazy Gang? If you don't know who they were, then it's not too surprising as they may have been among the most famous comedians in Britain and certain other countries in their heyday - and great favourites of the Royal Family, being King George VI's preferred performers - but these days you don't often hear them mentioned, even though you can pretty much trace their irreverent, frequently bizarre, anything for a laugh style through the decades to The Goons, Monty Python and so forth. Part of this was down to their music hall act being the best way to see them.
So while there were plenty of those who loved to watch them way back when, for us the only way we're going to get to experience them is through their movies, of which they made five, the last a semi-remake of Alf's Button Afloat, which was itself a remake. Sort of, as rather than a straight ahead adaptation of the creaky old comedy play this was tailored to the Crazy Gang's anarchic sense of humour, so it was as much a spoof of that source as it was a fresh version. A spoof of something that was already a comedy, that's right, and while you can watch a lot of vintage British comedy movies barely raising a titter, there was something about the Gang's crosstalking energy and joie de vivre that helped this survive better than other neglected acts of the day.
We first meet the six of them busking, only finding that the Navy band marching through the nearby streets is overwhelming them: the follow to pretend they're part of the band so they can get busking cash, then end up recruited for the next twelve years to a ship. So where does the button come in? It's on the uniform of Alf (Bud Flanagan), and when he rubs it to get it clean the genie appears in a fireball and puff of smoke, to which the astonished Alf exclaims, "Stripe me pink!" You can imagine how he looks after that, and it doesn't get any less ridiculous from there on as the Gang learn to harness the powers of their new acquaintance, though of course in the most absurd manner possible.
Well, maybe not completely absurd: they first ask for booze and birds, though an interesting aspect to this is that they believe the genie is conjuring these in abundance from thin air, but actually he's taking them from across the globe and plonking them down for them to enjoy (this is worth bearing in mind for later). As in many a Marx Brothers movie, there's love interest where one of the officers (James Carney) is enamoured of the daughter (Glennis Lorimer) of the stern Captain (Peter Gawthorne) who he has seen in a mildly scandalous newspaper ad for cigarettes, but where Groucho and company would mostly let their co-stars get on with it, here the romance is treated with complete lack of respect, even to the extent of what happens to them at the end, a true one-off occasion. Sim made a great addition to the team, and is obviously having a whale of a time (check out his American accent gleaned from an afternoon at the pictures), but mostly this was valuable for nearly capturing what it would have been like to watch The Crazy Gang on stage (where they truly lived up to their name).