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Lucky Jim (1957)


Main image of Lucky Jim (1957)
35mm, black and white, 95 mins
Directed by John Boulting
Production CompanyCharter Film Productions
Produced byRoy Boulting
Screenplay byPatrick Campbell
Original novelKingsley Amis
PhotographyMax Greene

Cast: Ian Carmichael (Jim Dixon); Terry-Thomas (Bertrand Welch); Hugh Griffith (Professor Welch); Sharon Acker (Christine Callaghan); Jean Anderson (Mrs Celia Welch)

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The exploits of Jim Dixon, a 24-year-old history lecturer who is worried that his unconventional methods might threaten his career. But then he is invited to a weekend party by the head of his department...

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Kingsley Amis' best-selling novel Lucky Jim, about a junior history professor at a redbrick university, was first published in 1954. Its hero, Jim Dixon, predates such 'angry young men' as Jimmy Porter (Look Back in Anger, first performed 1956) and Joe Lampton (Room at the Top, published 1957). By the time the Boulting Brothers came to film Lucky Jim, however, the 'new wave' in British culture had made an indelible impression. Both Amis' novel and their own films, following the excellent reaction to their satirical look at army life in Private's Progress (1956), could be seen, if not wholly accurately, as a part of this breakthrough.

The Jim Dixon of the film is without doubt a rebel. Our first sight of him is lying in bed smoking, when he should be at a meeting. On the wall by his bed is a girlie pin-up; on the opposite one a drawing of his departmental head, Professor Welch, at which he is throwing darts. His methods, encouraging students to question received wisdom, bring him into conflict with his stuffy, tradition-bound seniors, who are as rooted in the past as the subject they teach: Welch at one point picks up the telephone and says, sonorously, "History speaking".

The overall impression, though, is that neither the Boultings nor Ian Carmichael, making his third appearance as their lead actor, were quite sure how far to categorise Jim as an 'angry young man'. Sometimes he seems like a breath of fresh air in an antiquated world of academic and social rituals; sometimes like a risible fish out of water. Carmichael's performance likewise veers from the breezy, if guileless, impudence of, for example, a Tom Courtenay characterisation, to his own hapless Stanley Windrush persona from Private's Progress (and later I'm All Right Jack, 1959).

As in other Boulting Brothers comedies, there is much broad humour among the jibes, including slapstick fights, drunk scenes and a chase finale. Yet the mix here is less successful than elsewhere in their work, and for once the policy of taking pot shots at both sides does not quite come off. The general inconsistency of tone may stem from the somewhat ambivalent relationship of Amis' novel to the 'new wave'. Perhaps, too, the academic environment is just too rarefied, too unrelated to a recognisable outside world, to be satirically relevant.

Tony Whitehead

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Video Clips
1. The soirée (3:21)
2. The lecture (6:53)
Production stills
Publicity materials
Monthly Film Bulletin review
School for Scoundrels (1959)
Addison, John (1920-1998)
Boulting, John (1913-1985)
Boulting, Roy (1913-2001)
Carmichael, Ian (1920-2010)
Griffith, Hugh (1912-1980)
Griffith, Kenneth (1921-2006)
Terry-Thomas (1911-1990)
Boulting Brothers
The 'Angry Young Men'