Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Bespoke Overcoat, The (1955)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Bespoke Overcoat, The (1955)
35mm, black and white, 33 mins
DirectorJack Clayton
Production CompaniesRemus Films, Romulus Films
ProducerJack Clayton
ScreenplayWolf Mankowitz
Original storyNikolaj Gogol
PhotographyWolfgang Suschitzky
MusicGeorges Auric

Cast: Alfie Bass (Fender); David Kossoff (Morry)

Show full cast and credits

Fender, a clerk in the cold warehouse of Ranting & Co., wants one of the warm sheepskin coats stacked around him. Ranting refuses, Fender asks Morry, a tailor, to make him a coat, but Fender is fired and dies of cold before it is finished...

Show full synopsis

Although Jack Clayton had directed his first film in 1944, his first onscreen directorial credit came eleven years later, on this 33-minute adaptation of a short story by the great Russian fabulist Nikolai Gogol. It made a considerable splash for a short film, winning an Oscar, a BAFTA and a Venice Film Festival award, though it would be three years before Clayton would be given a feature to helm - the groundbreaking Room at the Top (1958). It also marked the start of an interest in the supernatural that would run throughout Clayton's career, in such films as The Innocents (1961), Our Mother's House (1967), Something Wicked This Way Comes (US, 1983) and Memento Mori (BBC, tx. 19/4/1992).

The Bespoke Overcoat is almost a two-hander between the tailor Morry (David Kossoff) and the clothing accountant Fender (Alfie Bass), the actors reprising their roles from Wolf Mankowitz' stage adaptation (which relocated the action to London's Jewish East End). Fender, suffering bitterly from the cold, is unable to afford one of the luxury sheepskin overcoats sold by his boss, Ranting, so he asks Morry to repair his old one. Morry believes that the coat is so far gone as to be irreparable, and persuades Fender to let him make a bespoke overcoat at cost price - but Fender dies of pneumonia before the job is finished.

The twist in the tale is that the story is largely told in flashback from the point of view of Fender's ghost, who visits Morry in his workshop to thank him for the overcoat (which Morry had buried with him), but insists that only a coat from Ranting's warehouse will do. Already wracked with guilt (did his insistence on taking time to create a bespoke overcoat contribute to his death?), Morry agrees to help him.

As would be the case with most of his subsequent films, Clayton's unobtrusive direction favours the actors, though Wolfgang Suschitzky's Expressionist lighting (seen to best effect when the camera circles around the dying Fender's bed) is superbly judged throughout. Despite the sepulchral atmosphere, there's also a great deal of humour, seen to best effect when Morry asks the ghostly Fender to walk through the warehouse wall and Fender declines because it's "silly". Touches like these anchor the film in a recognisable reality, and make the conclusion, in which Morry recites a Hebrew prayer for his dead friend, doubly moving.

Michael Brooke

*This film is included in the BFI DVD release of 'The Innocents'.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Life after death (2:55)
2. Paganini's needle (3:20)
3. Fender's delirium (2:59)
4. Walking through walls (2:43)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Auric, Georges (1899-1983)
Bass, Alfie (1920-1987)
Clayton, Jack (1921-1995)
Suschitzky, Wolfgang (1912-)