When Arthur Kipps (Tommy Steele) was a boy, he was orphaned at an early age and was forced to leave school to go to work as an apprentice draper. The main reason he did not wish to leave his old village was that he was abandoning his childhood sweetheart Ann, but she told him she would keep in touch through their letters, and gave him a kiss on the cheek before he was escorted all the way to the clothes shop of the strict and overbearing Mr Shalford (Hilton Edwards). Ten years went by and Arthur was still working there with his fellow assistants, people he had grown up with, but what had happened to Ann (Julia Foster)?
This class-obsessed musical was based on the book Kipps by H.G. Wells, and had already been filmed straight in 1941 with Michael Redgrave, although this was probably the most famous version which stuck pretty closely to the story, the production numbers apart. This is something of a problem that would not be so apparent in its long-running stage incarnation, as on film it becomes apparent that few of the songs do much to further the plot, and many seem to be there for the sake of filling up the far too substantial running time. Not that this is a bad thing, it's simply that the filmmakers make a meal of what might have been better as a lower-key story.
So if you don't mind setting apart two and a half hours to indulge yourself in a musical that is not quite top tier, not on Oliver! level at any rate if you're talking about British musicals, then what is there to hold the attention? Well, there's always the perfectly cast Tommy Steele, finding his niche as a song and dance man after his spell at the top of the U.K. rock 'n' rollers tree in the previous decade. He seems to be grinning even when something miserable is happening to Arthur, such is the wattage of that toothy beam, but his working class pluck and vigour come across as the ideal personality for what in other hands could have been a long slog through some increasingly elephantine setpieces.
When Arthur does meet up with Ann again after ten years apart, their youthful romance is sparked once more and he gives her half of the sixpence she gave him that decade ago as a token of his love, but there will be obstacles in the way to their happiness. First up, their second date has to be postponed because Mr Shalford orders Arthur to attend a woodwork class to please a client, but he barely makes it as he is waylaid by a flamboyant actor, Harry Chitterlow (Cyril Ritchard, alas not offering any musings over roulette), who will become important for the ending but as it is looks like another excuse for a tune when he takes Arthur to his theatre. Anyway, the daughter of the wealthy client is Helen (Penelope Horner), and he misguidedly falls for her.
This is all about waking the main character up to the fact that he cannot escape his standing in life, so when he inherits a fortune from his long lost relative it is not the cause for celebration he would have thought as he loses his friends, Ann and his dignity in his pursuit of Helen. She is a snooty type so it appears that Arthur is interested in her mainly because she is something he feels he should be aspiring to, and anyone could have told him leaving the more sincere Ann in the dust (or the rain, in this case) was a bad idea. If this does not move quite as much as it should, it might be down to Steele not coming across as the kind of person who would tolerate an unhappy finale for one of his tales, and perhaps also because the whole thing is somewhat exhausting, but it is worth watching at least for the most celebrated number, "Flash Bang Wallop! What a Picture!", cannily placed to wake us up when we're two hours in and all too aware of it.