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  Ghost of St Michael's, The That'll Teach You
Year: 1941
Director: Marcel Varnel
Stars: Will Hay, Claude Hulbert, Charles Hawtrey, Raymond Huntley, Felix Aylmer, Elliott Mason, John Laurie, Hay Petrie, Roddy Hughes, Manning Whiley, Charles Mortimer, Derek Blomfield, Clive Baxter, David Keir, Brefni O'Rorke
Genre: Comedy, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Because of the Blitz, a whole London private school for boys has been evacuated to the Isle of Skye in Scotland and today they have arrived at the ferry to take them there. Also turning up is a new master, William Lamb (Will Hay), who has come out of retirement to teach, and the boys think they will have some fun at his expense. When he boards, they all crowd round him to ask for his autograph while one of their number unties the straps on his suitcase, so that when he rises to leave the ferry, the contents fall out, he misses the bus, and has to walk eight miles to the new school...

Charming! But if Hay's celebrated bumbling schoolmaster character was not the butt of the humour, then we would be in the unthinkable position of having to take him seriously, and that would never do. For his first star comedy at Ealing, he returned to the act he was most familiar with, leaving Moore Marriott and Graham Moffatt - his former sidekicks - behind to carry the show on his own. If the public were perturbed by him ditching his old team, then they didn't show it and the presence of his best director, Marcel Varnel, could only have helped this become a huge hit.

It's essentially one of those old dark house comedies that comedians returned to again and again for decades, except this one is set in a castle that the caretaker, John Laurie, inimitably informs anyone who will listen is haunted. Yes, keep an ear out for the bagpipes sounding over the battlements, a sure sign that the old curse that struck all those centuries ago is about to occur again. Not that any of the teachers or pupils pay any attention to that - well, maybe Lamb has his doubts, as does his new friend Tisdale (Claude Hulbert), but they are not the possessors of the keenest of minds.

To this double act's credit, although we chuckle at their incompetence we do want to see them solve the mystery, but first we are offered a bit of business strongly reminiscent of Hay's music hall routines. He was of course a past master at this type of humour, and is still very funny today, especially if you're familiar with the British society he was performing in, so if he doesn't endure as well as the Carry Ons then he does appear at somewhere near his best in this, playing the fool whose students know far more than he does, even as he is at great pains to hide it.

Talking of Carry Ons, one of Hay's sidekicks in this is Charles Hawtrey as a pupil who starts off as the bane of Lamb's teaching life and ends up as one of his allies. It's a performance that can irritate at first, but then it's supposed to, so by the time he's one of the heroes he has proved himself worthy of our praise, and Hawtrey was already a seasoned player in this type of thing. As to that mystery, there's a murder involved that appears to be down to the curse when the headmaster turns up dead in his room, an apparent suicide after taking the rat poison Lamb has concocted. The solution to all this is very much of the war years, as British films were keen to do their part, and along the way are such highlights as the ink test and the courtroom in the barn, not to mention the runaround that comprises the finale. This also includes the classic exchange between the bemused Scottish sergeant and the flattered Lamb: "I dinna mind yer face," "Oh, well, I don't mind yours!" Winningly, it ends with Hay telling us we can all go home if we like. Music by Ernest Irving.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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