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Penny Points to Paradise (1951)

Courtesy of Adelphi Films

Main image of Penny Points to Paradise (1951)
35mm, 77 min, black & white
Directed byTony Young
Production CompanyP.Y.L. Productions
Presented byAdvance Films
Produced byAlan Cullimore
ScreenplayJohn Ormonde
CinematographyBert Mason
EditorHarry Booth

Cast: Harry Secombe (Harry Flakers); Alfred Marks (Alfred Haynes); Peter Sellers (The Major/The Salesman); Vicky Page (Sheila Gilroy); Paddy O'Neil (Christine Russell); Spike Milligan (Spike Donnelly); Bill Kerr (Digger Graves)

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Harry Flakers, winner of £100,000 on the football pools, celebrates at a crowded Brighton guest house with his friend, Spike. There he falls prey to the advances of a gold-digging girl, and counterfeiters steal his winnings.

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Peter Sellers remembered Penny Points to Paradise as his "very first appearance in front of a camera, if you like to call it an appearance. Spike (Milligan), Harry (Secombe), myself, Alfred Marks, Bill Kerr and Paddy O'Neil once made a film for £100 each in Brighton Studios... it really was a terrifyingly bad film!" Shot on a shoestring for tiny, family-run Adelphi, the film wasn't as bad as that, but Sellers' recollections - recorded much later in his career - may well have been hazy: the film was long out of circulation, until its 2008 reconstruction and restoration by the BFI.

Though the film captures three Goons just before their ground-breaking radio comedy show first aired, the old-fashioned exploits here hark back to the days of variety and silent comedy. Secombe is a solid but unlikely lead, with Milligan uncharacteristically subdued as his straight-man. Sellers, though, excels in a double role, convincing both as the Major, a bluff con-man (reminiscent of his Dennis Bloodnok character), and as smarmy Canadian salesman Arnold P. Fringe.

A farcical tale of forgers climaxing in a chase around a Brighton waxworks, the film's script was judged 'transparent' by Kine Weekly, but its review of this "rough and ready knockabout comedy" was generally positive: "The script is not exactly subtle, but the screwy radio favourites are both eager and resourceful... Definitely a certain rib-tickler for those who relish their fun raw".

Perhaps it wasn't as certain a rib-tickler as hoped, however: a full-page Adelphi advertisement in the same publication shortly afterwards reminded exhibitors that they really ought to book the film. Producer Alan Cullimore and actors Sellers, Secombe, Milligan and Marks had all signed up for a profit-sharing agreement.

This particular flutter, though, was not to pay dividends. Cheques were eventually despatched for small sums. Milligan, receiving his meagre cut, appeared to take it all philosophically. "Thanks for the lolly," he wrote to Adelphi's Stanley Dent, "it was a pleasant surprise, as I never expected any at all (knowing the film profession to be what it is)."

In 1960, a shorter cut, Penny Points, was assembled to capitalise on Sellers' growing popularity. This shorter version - which included brief Sellers sequences from another Adelphi comedy, Let's Go Crazy (d. Alan J. Cullimore, 1951) - was intended for overseas distribution. But once again there was no appreciable pay out, and the film quietly vanished into the ether of Sellers' reminiscences.

Vic Pratt

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Video Clips
1. A trip to Brighton (2:12)
2. The Major (1:45)
3. The salesman (2:09)
Let's Go Crazy (1951)
Milligan, Spike (1918-2002)
Sellers, Peter (1925-1980)
Adelphi Films