Saturday, April 18, 2015

Tonight's Movie: All At Sea (1957) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

ALL AT SEA (1957), also known in the UK as BARNACLE BILL, is an Alec Guinness comedy recently released by the Warner Archive.

Guinness plays Captain William Horatio Ambrose, who comes from a legendary British seafaring family but is so seasick that a mere photograph of water can make him ill.

Ambrose retires from the navy and purchases a ramshackle seaside amusement pier which he proceeds to renovate, despite opposition from the local town council, who plan to condemn the pier. Ambrose finds an unexpected ally in a former enemy (Irene Browne) and gradually brings the pier back to life, while also coming up with a clever plan to prevent it from being demolished.

This "Ealing comedy" has its mildly funny moments but was not really my cuppa tea, so to speak. Some of the broader humor I found unpleasant, and more importantly, the filmmakers use every possible opportunity to make the viewing audience feel as seasick as Captain Ambrose! Due to this I actually ended up fast-forwarding through the opening credits, filmed with the camera bobbing along with waves at sea.

Ambrose's new home in the "crazy cottage" on the pier only accentuates the audience's "seasick" feelings. The constant "humor" about feeling green brought back unpleasant long-ago memories of suffering severe morning sickness rather than being amusing.

Guinness does a nice deadpan job -- I enjoyed the fact that he's thoroughly "Navy" despite his disability, and the way he addressed his second-in-command on the pier as "Number 1" -- and there are a few moments of dry humor here and there which I liked. That said, despite my great love for Britain and many British films, I simply wasn't the right audience for this one. Perhaps my constitution is too close to that of Captain Ambrose to be able to really appreciate it!

The movie was directed by Charles Frend, with story and screenplay by T.E.B. Clarke.

Those not inclined to feeling queasy who like the film's comedy style will really enjoy this sharp-looking widescreen DVD from the Warner Archive. A trailer is included on the DVD.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the WBShop.


Blogger Maricatrin said...

I must be a natural born sailor (lol), because I really like this one! It and "The Titfield Thunderbolt" are two of my favorite Ealing comedies. Perhaps not so coincidentally, both happen to involve the saving/preserving of something, and have protagonists you can whole-heartedly root for.

There's a lot in British humor that admittedly doesn't seem to "translate" well for some American viewers... perhaps an early exposure to P.G. Wodehouse has stood me in good stead over the years :-)

9:08 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

LOL! I'm glad you liked it, Maricatrin! I can definitely see where other people such as yourself would like it, whereas it left me feeling a bit unwell (grin). That's an interesting point about your two favorites having a similar theme.

There's a lot of British humor I like, especially some of the more subtle and dry stuff -- on the other hand the style of the bits in this film about his "ancestors" (head in a pot over a fire?) left me cold. Humor can be such an individual thing!

Best wishes,

11:53 AM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

“Humor can be such an individual thing!” So true! :-)

I also love the dry wit of the old British comedies... which I feel this one had, in addition to the bits you could have done without. I see how “the head in a pot” might not be for all tastes (no pun intended!) There’s an off-handedly macabre element in British humor sometimes. I’m seldom bothered by it, perhaps from an early acquaintance, or else I’m just a ghoul at heart (lol).

William S. Gilbert goes all out with cannibalism in the outrageous “The Yarn of the Nancy Bell,” which was too much for his editor at the time. I recall a comic poem by G.K. Chesterton, about a man winding up in a pot as well, but I can’t remember the title at the moment. On an animal attack theme, P.G. Wodehouse relates amusingly how a big-game hunter was eaten by a lion (“he thought the lion was dead, but the lion thought it wasn’t”), and Thomas Hood’s “Sally Simpkin's Lament” is really something: “Oh! Sally, sharks do things by halves / Yet most completely do! / A bite in one place seems enough, / But I've been bit in two.”

Stan Laurel, perhaps in this tradition, brought a darkly humorous end to several of his and Ollie’s adventures, I remember being quite upset by some when I was little. Apparently he had wanted to end “Block-Heads” with his and Ollie’s still-talking heads mounted on Billy’ Gilbert’s wall!!! (I have to admit: I’m glad they didn’t let him.)

Not to say that all of this *is* British comedy, it’s just an element, and one I prefer to the wholly “black comedy” genre, also macabre, but additionally mean-spirited. There’s a stiff-upper lip, ‘let’s not be sticky’ grounding about making light of such horrible things in the old comedies like “Barnacle Bill” which feels free of any real malice.

(P.S.) Unrelated, but.. verifying with all the food pictures is making me hungry!

3:12 PM  

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