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Cuckoo in the Nest (1933)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Cuckoo in the Nest (1933)
35mm, black and white, 85 mins
DirectorTom Walls
Production CompanyGaumont-British Picture Corporation
Original playBen Travers
Adaptation and DialogueBen Travers
ScenarioA.R. Rawlinson
PhotographyGlen MacWilliams

Cast: Tom Walls (Major Bone); Ralph Lynn (Peter Wyckham); Grace Edwin (Mrs Bone); Yvonne Arnaud (Marguerite Hickett); Mary Brough (Mrs Spoker)

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Comedy of misunderstandings, in which Peter Wyckham is suspected by his wife Barbara of eloping with an old friend, Marguerite Hickett. They are pursued to the country by Barbara and her parents.

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Ben Travers' farces, written for the Aldwych Theatre in London's the Strand, were immensely popular and made stars of their three regular main players - Tom Walls, Ralph Lynn and J. Robertson Hare. In the early 1930s, producer Michael Balcon wooed Walls away from rival Herbert Wilcox to sign a contract with Gaumont-British. For the rest of the decade, nearly all of Travers' classic farces were filmed, directed by Walls and starring him alongside Lynn and Robertson Hare.

Walls was a major theatrical figure and insisted not only on directing the films himself but also on having the choice and approval of both story and cast. This led to disputes with Balcon for a number of reasons, not least the fact that Walls was a poor film director and didn't always cast the most able players in the lesser roles. There was little attempt to make the films much more than photographed stage plays, and their rhythm and momentum remain theatrical rather than cinematic. The photography is mainly composed of medium and long shots and the close-up is hardly used, certainly in Cuckoo in the Nest (1933), and where a close-up does occur it rarely has the right impact. The action is seen as it would be from a good seat in the theatre stalls.

What the film does do is to record three farceurs at the height of their popularity and abilities - the playing is immaculate and still raises the laughs in all the right places, even when the direction is often clumsy and unhelpful. It also enables the viewer to see some other theatrical legends such as Yvonne Arnaud (known chiefly today for having a theatre named after her in Guildford, Surrey).

Tom Walls' popularity waned in the 1940s, but he had small parts in a few other films produced by Balcon - and Herbert Wilcox - before his death in 1949. Ralph Lynn died in 1962 but seems not to have had much of a film career apart from the Travers' cycle. Robertson Hare went on to amuse a whole new generation as the archdeacon in the TV comedy series All Gas and Gaiters (1967-1971), alongside William Mervyn and Derek Nimmo. His regular exclamation "Oh, calamity!" became a national catchphrase for a while. The Aldwych farces were revived by Brian Rix at the Whitehall Theatre in the 1950s and 1960s, with many of them televised live.

Janet Moat

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Video Clips
1. Extract (3:52)
2. Extract (4:28)
Production stills
Dalrymple, Ian (1903-1989)
Junge, Alfred (1886-1964)
Livesey, Roger (1906-1976)
MacPhail, Angus (1903-1962)
Parker, Cecil (1897-1971)
Gaumont-British Picture Corporation
Film and Theatre: 1930s
Performance in 1930s film