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Goose Steps Out, The (1942)


Main image of Goose Steps Out, The (1942)
35mm, black and white, 79 mins
DirectorsWill Hay, Basil Dearden
Production CompanyEaling Studios
ProducerMichael Balcon
ScreenplayAngus Macphail, John Dighton
Based on an idea byBernard Miles, Reg Groves
PhotographyErnest Palmer
MusicBretton Byrd

Cast: Will Hay (William Henry Potts/Muller); Peter Ustinov (Krauss); Charles Hawtrey (Max); Frank Pettingell (professor Hoffmann); Julien Mitchell (General von Klotz)

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Schoolteacher William Potts is the double of a German spy, so he is sent to Germany by British Intelligence to obtain the plans of a new secret weapon.

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During World War Two, British screen comedians were put to use rallying our national spirits by making fun of the enemy. Will Hay exposed German spies in The Ghost of St. Michael's (d. Marcel Varnel, 1941) and fifth columnists in The Black Sheep of Whitehall (d. Will Hay/Basil Dearden, 1941) before venturing behind enemy lines in The Goose Steps Out (1942), following the light adventure-comedy examples set by Rex Harrison in Night Train to Munich (d. Carol Reed, 1940) and Leslie Howard in Pimpernel Smith (d. Leslie Howard, 1940).

As Potts, Hay looks younger, is far less disreputable and behaves more resourcefully than in his series of late 1930s films with Moore Marriott and Graham Moffatt. The comedy is much weaker without the interaction the pair provided and Potts' frequent momentary lapses from character as Muller are curiously ignored by the Germans, except for the three Austrians who rescue him from a tight spot by providing an alibi.

While masquerading as an instructor, Hay is able to delve into the classroom humour for which he was noted, playing on the different pronunciation of place names with the same spelling. In this sequence, the young Peter Ustinov is prominent as a particularly humourless student who prompts the comedic highlight of the film with his question, "But have the British no form of ceremonial salutation, sir?" Other sequences, such as the discussion of the invasion of England, provide fertile ground for puns, as in the play on the words 'pants' and 'Panzers' [tanks].

Hay co-directed the film with Basil Dearden, and it is efficiently and briskly staged in a rather mechanical fashion, lacking any real sense of character and inspiration. There can be little doubt, though, that it served its immediate purpose as a cheerful diversion for war-time audiences.

Allen Eyles

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Video Clips
1. Cultural training (3:16)
2. Learning to think like the British (3:16)
Production stills
Peter Ustinov: The Guardian Interview (1990)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Ask A Policeman (1939)
Convict 99 (1938)
Oh, Mr Porter! (1937)
Windbag the Sailor (1936)
Dearden, Basil (1911-1971)
Hartnell, William (1908-1975)
Hawtrey, Charles (1914-1988)
Hay, Will (1888-1949)
MacPhail, Angus (1903-1962)
Miles, Bernard (1907-1991)
Ustinov, Peter (1921-2004)
Ealing at War
Will Hay