It's a comedy about men who love vintage cars (first) and women (second). It's very funny, but in a teddibly British and slightly delicate way.
It involves the annual London to Brighton antique car rally. John Gregson and Kenneth More both own an ancient and much-loved old wreck, barely capable of travelling ten metres without some kind of breakdown. They're beautiful machines, though. I wouldn't deny that. Anyway, they'll be driving down to Brighton, as they do every year, even though you'd think they'd be better off walking.
In other words, they're geeks. This is a geek movie. It's hilarious when we're down at Brighton and listening to all these car buffs with their car talk. It's amazing that Gregson has managed to marry, while it's no surprise that More hasn't.
However not only are there women in this film, but, for me, they're more important than the men. Gregson and More are merely idiots, but their womenfolk are the normal ones who are nonetheless stuck with these idiots and their peculiarities. They have more subtleties of characterisation, I think, and I found them funnier. Gregson's wife is Dinah Sheridan and she doesn't really like cars, but she can see what it means to Gregson and so she's putting on her brave face.
Sheridan's the rock of this movie. Every wife who's ever put up with a husband's oddities will identify with her, i.e. every wife. Gregson's fine, but there wouldn't be any laughs without Sheridan. She's the realist. What's more, I love the way they're being grown-ups about their relationship. They're so British, trying to be fair and give way to their spouse's preferences all the time. Furthermore their reactions aren't overblown comedy hysteria, but instead kept surprising me by being sensible. The men will abandon their beloved race to help a pregnant woman, for instance, or even just to avoid being rude to a stranger who's started talking to them. Sheridan can be put through hell and then, instead of having a meltdown, just start laughing at herself.
That's not to say that Gregson and More aren't childish, of course. They're a pair of twonks and they lose their tempers quite often. However it's their womenfolk who ground the film and give it its soul. I'd found it funny to see Sheridan do something as simple as start laughing at More.
Gregson and More's performances are fine. Sheridan is wonderful. Look at her rueful face when putting a cocktail party invitation in the bin, for instance. Kay Kendall as More's current squeeze is good too, not to mention almost impossibly gorgeous. (She died of leukaemia, aged 32.) There's also a cameo for Joyce Grenfell as a monstrous but terribly nice hotel proprietor. "No one's ever complained before."
There's also a clever touch near the end, in which Gregson stakes his car on winning the race. Suddenly you don't know if he'll win or not. It would almost make a better ending if he lost, since he'd be healthier if he gave up that car, even if his wife thinks it would be the end of him.
This is a delicate and slightly counter-intuitive comedy. You keep expecting it to be wacky and it keeps stopping short, instead getting its laughs from Sheridan's sensible behaviour or the frightfully British ways in which everyone keeps sabotaging their own best efforts. Similarly the antique car rally is an eccentrically brilliant setting for a car race, since Gregson and More's old crocks will have broken down more often than not. They couldn't win a race against a bicycle. (It's worth noting, by the way, that the London-Brighton rally isn't a race and it's against its rules to turn it into one. Gregson and More are being naughty.)
I'd never heard of this film, but it was a big deal at the time. It was the second biggest at the British box office in 1953 and it was Oscar-nominated for Best Original Screenplay and for Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture. It won both a BAFTA Award and a Golden Globe for Best British/Foreign Film. For me, though, today, I enjoyed it while continually finding it slightly puzzling. It keeps avoiding the expected comedy choices, yet I'd find myself laughing quite a lot anyway. I think it's fascinating. I bet my wife would love it.
"I hope I'm not holding you up?"