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Laughter in Paradise (1951)


Main image of Laughter in Paradise (1951)
DirectorMario Zampi
Production CompanyTransocean Films
 Associated British Picture Corporation
ProducerMario Zampi
ScriptMichael Pertwee
 Jack Davies
PhotographyWilliam Mcleod

Cast: Beatrice Campbell (Lucille Grayson); Alastair Sim (Deniston Russell); Fay Compton (Agnes Russell); Guy Middleton (Simon Russell); George Cole (Herbert Russell)

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Notorious practical joker Henry Russell dies, and his will leaves £50,000 to each of four relatives - on condition that they carry out various humiliating tasks beforehand.

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Although over half a century old, Laughter in Paradise (d. Mario Zampi, 1951) is based on a situation that's bang up to date - if anything, in the era of Big Brother (Channel 4, 2000-) and I'm A Celebrity - Get Me Out Of Here! (ITV, 2002-), its premise, whereby four people abjectly humiliate themselves for money, is rather more believable now than it was then.

And, as with recent 'reality TV' shows, the 'contestants' span a wide range of backgrounds and character types. Alastair Sim's Deniston beautifully judges the contrast between a naturally fastidious persona and the indignities he has to perform to keep afloat, whether dictating sleazy thrillers or having not only to commit a crime in the first place but also suffer being caught, tried and sentenced.

Given the farcical tone of the rest of the film, Fay Compton's Agnes is a surprisingly moving study in late middle-aged loneliness and by some measure the most convincingly rounded character. By contrast, Guy Middleton and George Cole's roles as Simon and Herbert Russell rarely rise above the stereotypical, and they're given noticeably less screen time.

Although often mistaken for an Ealing comedy, Laughter in Paradise doesn't quite fit that particular template. It's a little too schematic to sit comfortably alongside its contemporaries, and the overall moral message - that certain things are rather more important than vast wealth - is delivered with even less subtlety than Deniston's attempt at shoplifting.

But it offers plenty of compensating pleasures in both the lead performances and a familiar supporting cast: Joyce Grenfell as Deniston's priggish fiancée; John Laurie as a wild-eyed Scotsman (a clear precursor of Private Frazer in Dad's Army (BBC, 1968-77)); Ernest Thesiger as Henry Russell's bewildered friend Endicott, charged with reading the will and the follow-up letter; co-writer Michael Pertwee (son of Roland, brother of Jon) as Herbert's hated rival Stewart - and, in one of her first screen appearances, Audrey Hepburn as a cigarette girl.

Rome-born director Mario Zampi (1903-1963) moved to Britain in 1923, starting out as an actor before turning editor in 1930 and producer in 1937, when he founded Two Cities Films with fellow countryman Filippo Del Giudice. As director, he specialised in comedy, Laughter in Paradise being followed by Top Secret (1952), Happy Ever After (1954), The Naked Truth (1957) and Too Many Crooks (1959), all of which display a surprisingly acute grasp of the British sense of humour.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Drowning sorrows (4:05)
2. Flowers and oxygen (3:09)
3. Biting the bullet (2:34)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Cole, George (1925-)
Grenfell, Joyce (1910-1979)
Griffith, Hugh (1912-1980)
Laurie, John (1897-1980)
Sim, Alastair (1900-1976)
Thesiger, Ernest (1879-1961)
Launder and Gilliat