Although Private’s Progress was made in 1956 and I’m All Right Jack three years later the latter is a sequel of the former. Both were directed by the Boulting Brothers, scripted by Antony Hackney and many of the cast played the same characters in both: Ian Carmichael as Stanley Windrush, Terry-Thomas as Major Hitchcock, Denis Price as Bertram Tricepurcel, Richard Attenborough as Sidney Cox, Miles Malleson, John Le Mesurier, David Lodge and Kenneth Griffith all too had minor roles in both.
Private’s Progress is a caper wartime movie when the rogue and bounder Tracepurcel, with his spiv accomplice Cox, attempts to carry out a raid of looted Nazi art treasure largely for their benefit. The hapless Windrush nearly messes it all up. It’s amusing though the plot is thin.
I’m all Right Jack is a more powerful satire of Britain in the late fifties. It begins on VE Day and the aspirations for post-war Britain. Windrush is now searching for a job in industry and after unsuccessful interviews his dishonest uncle, Bertram Tracepurcel, a director of Missiles Ltd, agrees to given him a position. It is agreed he will start on the factory floor. The intention is his bumbling incompetence and suspicion that he is a stool pigeon will cause industrial unrest and an arms contract can be placed with Sidney Cox’s factory, after they profit from the share increase to Missiles Ltd. The chief shop steward Fred Kite, played by Peter Sellers, in one of his best roles needs little excuse to start a strike. Fred Kite, with his badly tailored suit, pens in breast pocket, bristly little moustache and stilted English, is a superb creation protecting the lazy workforce. In one rant he speaks of the danger of black labour – and how unwelcome they would – be using language that would be unacceptable today. Perhaps as with Johnny Speight writing of Till Death Do Us Part racism is being lampooned as the film is surprisingly modern. In the final scene there is mass nudity, predating the raunchier sixties, but pretty tame nowadays when sexual practice and nudity is commonplace.
The problem with the film is that as funny as it is and, with Terry-Thomas as head of HR and Peter Sellers, it’s very funny indeed it’s trying to make a serious point about British post-war industrial relations and inefficiencies, director corruption, venality. Two years later in 1961 Richard Attenborough starred in The Angry Silence, a far more hard-hitting story of a worker that defies a strike. In 1962 Denis Price appeared in Victim, a sensitive treatment of homosexuality when it was a criminal offence. Ealing Comedies often had a subversive element. The two Boulting films reviewed here lampooned the establishment but in a brief period of the early sixties social issues were debated in a realist cinema in a highly effective way. Still what better way to get through the festive period that in the company of Terry-Thomas and Peter Sellers ?