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Lazybones (1935)

British Film Institute

Main image of Lazybones (1935)
35mm, 66 min, black & white
DirectorMichael Powell
Production CompanyTwickenham Film Studios Productions
Presented byJulius Hagen
AdaptationGerard Fairlie
From the play byErnest Denny
PhotographyErnest Palmer

Cast: Ian Hunter (Sir Reginald Ford); Claire Luce (Kitty McCarthy); Bernard Nedell (Michael McCarthy); Denys Blakelock (Hugh Ford); Miles Malleson (the pessimist)

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When the theft of politically sensitive documents by his wife's old boyfriend causes the marriage to break-up, a poor but indolent British aristocrat fights to get his wife back by proving that he can work for a living.

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Lazybones, a typical depression-era comedy of impoverished aristocracy, was widely dismissed when first released. The Monthly Film Bulletin complained that "such an incredible story needs more pace and a lighter touch all round", while Kine Weekly wittily commented that "the producer makes the common mistake of thinking that an Englishman's home is a castle." Michael Powell wasn't even credited as the director by Picturegoer, which instead mistakenly gave the honour to Julius Hagen, the film's producer. More recent assessments have not been much kinder. Jeffrey Richards damningly called it "just the sort of film that got the British cinema a bad name", while Raymond Durgnat called it the "runt of the litter", pointing out that it "abounds in continuity bloopers".

Looking at Lazybones today, it is worth noting that Powell had to shoot most of the film in 13 nights: common practice at Hagen's studio, which operated 24 hours a day. The schedule was necessitated by the fact that the film's two stars, Ian Hunter and Claire Luce, were appearing in West End plays at the same time.

There is some gold to be mined in this occasionally amiable comedy however, such as Powell's long and ambitious tracking shot that crosses a courtyard and then moves through two separate rooms before reaching its destination; a hilarious cameo by Miles Malleson, in which he is a witness to a wedding, all the time trying to talk the couple out of it; and, for today's audiences, there is the amusing line, "it's about time there was a channel tunnel!"

The film's generally stage-bound nature does, unfortunately, weaken the comic potential of its outrageous conclusion - in which Hunter turns his palatial abode into a recreation home for the wealthy by giving them servile jobs - which mostly occurs offstage and is otherwise dealt with extremely cursorily. In its dottily Marxist presentation of the rich and powerful succumbing to a fantasy of poverty and lowly disenfranchisement, it anticipates the Hollywood classic My Man Godfrey (US, 1936) and even such grisly modern-day TV spectacles as I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here (ITV, 2002-).

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Late riser (4:01)
2. The pessimist (1:06)
3. The theft (3:15)
4. New orders (2:06)
Complete Film (1:01:43)
Kemplen, Ralph (1912-2004)
Early Michael Powell