Here, courtesy of StudioCanal, is a very welcome DVD and Blu-ray reissue for the Boulting Brothers's cherishable class-conscious comedy of union strife: a sequel of sorts to their 1956 A Private’s Progress with Ian Carmichael reprising his role as the Oxford innocent Stanley Windrush. This time out, the film follows Windrush as he takes a job at the missile factory owned by his Uncle (Dennis Price), where his bumbling efforts sometimes suggest a proto-Naked Gun film. But Windrush, it turns out, is actually only a pawn in the game of the management, who want to use him as the catalyst in a labour dispute that will bring them profit.
Though taken to task by some critics for anti-union bias, the satire is actually spread with satisfying even-handedness by the Boultings, with the Union, the bosses, employers and employees, the upper and working classes and flagrant militarism all targeted at various points. (“Missiles are making their own special contribution to peace in the world,” Price intones.) The tone isn’t genteel – the film is capped by cheeky nudist antics that wouldn’t disgrace a Carry On – but the script is smart (much more so than the recent Pride , say) and the film adds up to a vivid portrait of a cross-section of British society on the cusp of change.
There are fun, artful characterisations from Terry-Thomas as an Army officer turned manager, from Liz Fraser as the blowsy girl Windrush falls for; from Richard Attenborough as Price’s conniving cohort, amusing bits of business for Margaret Rutherford (her upper-class matron appraising a copy of The Decline of the Privileged Classes), Irene Handl, Miles Malleson, and – at the centre – a turn of great inventiveness from Peter Sellers as the shop steward and union leader Fred Kite. Sellers scenes take the satire to a new level – "All those cornfields. And ballet in the evening” Mr. Kite rhapsodises, romanticising Russia – and give the movie some surprising depths of emotion as well.
Digitally restored, the film looks clear and crisp, and the restoration is supplemented by a few choice Extras too, including the Richard Lester-helmed short “The Running, Jumping & Standing Still Film” and a lovely new interview with Fraser. This new edition is available from 19th January, and comes highly recommended.