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Let George Do It! (1940)


Main image of Let George Do It! (1940)
35mm, black and white, 82 mins
DirectorMarcel Varnel
Production CompaniesAssociated Talking Pictures, Ealing Studios
ProducerMichael Balcon
ScreenplayAngus MacPhail, John Dighton, Basil Dearden, Austin Melford
Director of PhotographyRonald Neame

Cast: George Formby (George); Phyllis Calvert (Mary); Garry Marsh (Mendez); Romney Brent (Slim)

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George, ukulele player with the Dinky Doo Concert Party, is mistaken for a British intelligence agent and foils a plot by German spies.

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Quite apart from being an effective vehicle for wartime propaganda, Let George Do It! (1940) is one of the best constructed and most consistently amusing of the George Formby comedies. The film benefits from the assured touch of Marcel Varnel, who had already directed the Will Hay comedy classic Oh, Mr. Porter! (1937). Throughout his career Varnel worked with assorted screen clowns of variable talent, but was generally adept at producing solid, fast-moving, entertaining and distinctly British comedies with style and visual finesse.

Here, Formby gives a lively and high-spirited performance, by turns cheeky and bashful, displaying the best of the traits that made him famous. Angus MacPhail, Basil Dearden and John Dighton made an efficient comedy scriptwriting trio, later writing some of the best films Will Hay produced at Ealing, and here George is bolstered by a fast-moving script carefully tailored to his screen persona, which, if co-star Phyllis Calvert is to be believed, was far removed from the real Formby. "He was a bit of a disappointment... he was a very dull man," she later commented.

In addition to a witty script, there are many musical highlights. Formby's potency as a forces entertainer is reflected by the scene in which he performs the catchy and innuendo-laden 'Grandad's Flannelette Nightshirt' to a crowd of servicemen in a station bar. Also featured is a song that crosses his famous crowd-pleaser, 'When I'm Cleaning Windows', with another of his successful novelty numbers, 'Chinese Laundry Blues'. The ingenious, if contrived, musical result is 'Mr. Wu's A Window Cleaner Now'.

Particularly notable is a lengthy dream sequence, in which George flies to Germany on a barrage balloon, descending upon a Nazi rally to punch Hitler. This striking image was enough to prompt the film's international release. One can only speculate about the reaction of American audiences to Formby's seaside postcard humour; however, there was no doubting the film's success in Russia, where it played to packed houses in Moscow for ten months under the title Dinky Doo.

Vic Pratt

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Video Clips
1. In the station (3:52)
2. Hotel assignation (2:53)
3. Formby vs Hitler (3:32)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Browne, Coral (1913-1991)
Calthrop, Donald (1888-1940)
Dearden, Basil (1911-1971)
Formby, George (1904-1961)
Lee, Bernard (1908-1981)
MacPhail, Angus (1903-1962)
Varnel, Marcel (1892-1947)