Belles of St. Trinian’s, The (1954)

“This school has practically reduced me to a nervous wreck!”

Synopsis:
An undercover detective (Joyce Grenfell) is sent to investigate the situation at an anarchic boarding school for girls, whose cash-strapped headmistress (Alastair Sim) is betting money on an Arabian racehorse to save her institution. Meanwhile, Sim’s brother (also Alastair Sim) brings his rebellious daughter (Vivienne Martin) back to the school in order to learn more information about the racehorse, which is owned by the recently arrived daughter (Lorna Henderson) of a sultan (Eric Pohlmann).

Genres:

Review:
Based on a popular comic strip series by British satirist Ronald Searle, this first of four films in the popular “St. Trinian’s” series takes place at a boarding school where wild-haired girls run rampant while their vampy teachers smoke cigarettes and schmooze. It will primarily appeal either to those familiar with the strip or fans of Sim, who is in fine comedic mettle here playing dual roles as siblings (though he spends most of his time in drag as Millicent). He’s nicely matched by Grenfell as a determined detective who resorts to ultra-creative evidence gathering in the film’s final moments. Director Frank Launder co-wrote the screenplay with Sidney Gilliat, with whom he had previously scripted The Lady Vanishes (1938) and Night Train to Munich (1940); fans of those earlier classics should be forewarned that this flick is much more broadly slapstick, relying heavily on caricatures and the ridiculousness of a kidnapped horse.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Alastair Sim as Millicent and Clarence Fritton
  • Joyce Grenfell as Sgt. Ruby Gates

Must See?
No; this one will likely only appeal to fans of Sim or Searle’s work.

Links:

2 Responses to “Belles of St. Trinian’s, The (1954)”

  1. First viewing. Not must-see… though Alastair Sim fans will be curious to see him pull off drag. I was.

    It’s perplexing that this was based on a popular comic series. But then… in 1954, in uptight England, the idea of anarchy among schoolgirls must have been so unseemly that a whole school of such hellions must have come off as comic genius. Alas, it isn’t.

    What we have here is (more or less) a single idea milked for effect. There are precious few actual laugh lines in the dialogue. Since that’s the case, the one-joke aspect runs out of steam early on.

    One would think that no one knew that better than Sim. Playing a man, he has little to do but be garden-variety shady. As a woman, Sim is at least able to come up to the plate in terms of character touches with his voice and with a certain amount of movement and ‘business’. He plays the headmistress as perpetually benign but hardly bemused – a wise delivery that works in his/her favor. (George Cole gets points for his slick demeanor as Flash Harry.)

    The rest of the staff – who seem hard-nosed enough to handle a number of matters – hardly figure at all in the proceedings. And why does the school (or the staff) need money when at least the chemistry teacher Miss Wilson (played by Beryl Reid – who would go on to star in ‘The Killing of Sister George’ and ‘Entertaining Mr. Sloane’) is not only aware of but involved in the girls’ successful, clandestine homemade gin industry?

    The film’s unlikely conceit rests with a pack of girls being of one unruly mind. ‘The Trouble with Angels’ (1966) takes the same idea but limits the plot’s shenanigans and, with a better script (which, to this day, holds up well), places them in the spirits of only two girls. By comparison, ‘Belles…’ is more ambitious but with less to show for it.

  2. A must see as the first film in a franchise that continued on and off into the 21st century. It’s the only film in the series that is must see however, even though the ’50s-’60s entries are all just as good.

    Splendid family fare all round and Sim is perfect as always.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.