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Boys Will Be Boys (1935)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Boys Will Be Boys (1935)
35mm, 76 min, black & white
DirectorWilliam Beaudine
Production CompanyGainsborough Pictures
ProducerMichael Balcon
ScriptWill Hay
 Robert Edmunds
PhotographyCharles Van Enger
Music DirectorLouis Levy

Cast: Will Hay (Dr Alec Smart); Gordon Harker (Faker Brown); Jimmy Henley (Cyril Brown); Norma Varden (Lady Dorking); Claude Dampier (Theo P. Finch)

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Dr Alexander Smart deviously secures for himself the post of Headmaster at Narkover School. But his new position brings unforeseen challenges.

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Will Hay's fourth film, and the first of the ten films in his golden period with Gainsborough Studios, introduced to the screen his popular characterisation of the schoolmaster. Hay had made his professional debut in 1909 and, with a series of sketches the crafty and irascible head of the fictitious St Michael's, became one of variety's top-drawer acts for over 25 years.

An avid reader of J.B. Morton's 'Beachcomber' column in the Daily Express, Hay enjoyed the escapades of Dr Smart-Allick of Narkover School. He based the film's original storyline around the Narkover stories, peppering the script with gags intended for the St Michael's act. Hay later said that Morton attended several meetings to help with the plot. Morton, however, recalled meeting Hay only once and denied any involvement in the production. After script meetings with American director, Hay's character, Smart, ended up closer to his stage creation than to Morton's original.

The film set the template for Hay's cinematic character of the seedy incompetent, conning his way into positions of authority. A stickler for detail, Hay shaved his head daily rather than wear a scratch wig, performed his own stunts (including being dragged along behind a taxi) and roughed it up with his fellow rugby players for the film's finale, injuring his shoulder in the process.

Leaving no place for subtlety, the gags come thick and fast, especially in the classroom, with the 'How High is a Chinaman?' routine, originally intended for Hay's stage act. The thin plot centres on the missing necklace of Lady Dorking, played with flirtatious grandeur by Norma Varden. The supporting cast are top notch, especially a dim-witted Claude Dampier and a cunningly crooked Gordon Harker.

Beaudine keeps the action moving at a brisk pace, culminating in a superbly shot rugby match (unfamiliar with the rules, Beaudine was advised by BBC commentator Captain Wakeham). The rugby match contains one sequence worthy of Sam Peckinpah: as Smart attempts to regain his footing he is shot in slow motion, showcasing a balletic and agile Will Hay.

Bizarrely for a comedy poking harmless fun at the English public school system, the censors issued the film with an 'A' certificate, out of concern that the horseplay of the celluloid juveniles might spill over into the lives of real schoolchildren.

Graham Rinaldi

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Video Clips
1. A bogus letter (4:07)
2. A Narkovian greeting (4:03)
3. How high is a Chinaman? (3:57)
Harker, Gordon (1885-1967)
Hay, Will (1888-1949)
Roome, Alfred (1908-1997)