It's another bad Will Hay movie! I've had a run of good ones and I'd almost forgotten that his films can at times be dull and unfunny when he's being particularly unpleasant.
This isn't even one of his interesting ones. Will Hay films can be startling in how far they're prepared to go, but by his standards this one feels rather formulaic. For once the title tells you all you need to know. In this film Hay never stops telling lies about himself, the running theme of which is that he's an old sea captain of vast experience and heroism. This couldn't be further from the truth.. Naturally even a child could see at a glance that he's a pathetic fraud, but Hay never stops digging himself into deeper holes.
That's the sole joke of the film. I probably exaggerate, but it certainly felt that way.. I presume someone somewhere finds this amusing, but this deduction is based entirely on the fact that the film got made. Personally I couldn't see the humour in it. I didn't like Hay as a person, I got no pleasure from being subjected to his bullshit and I was rooting for the bad guys almost from the start. His sister had the right idea. "They're going to send him off to sea!" "Good." My favourite bits of the film are the scenes where he's in pain, while it's a disappointment when he wriggles out of his sticky situations without drowning, starving to death or (for preference) being hanged.
Naturally he ends up as captain of a ship at sea, but there's no inherent humour or shock value in this. Will Hay as a policeman, teacher or prison governor is mildly scary. Will Hay being stuck in the middle of nowhere on board a vessel that he doesn't know the first thing about how to operate... not so much. The crew know that he's a fake and they're basically ignoring him. Good for them. That's what I'd do. They're also going to scuttle the ship for the insurance and let Hay go down with it, leaving no one alive to contradict their story of what happened. That's perhaps a tad more reprehensible, but I'll go along with it if it means making Hay shut up. The only thing I did like about all this is the fact that they've cast a genuinely rough-looking bunch of tough nuts as the sailors. There's nothing comedic or softly-softly about that lot. They're being played for real and that I appreciated.
I also liked the implied brutality of the head of the shipping company having given the orders for all this before the ship set sail. Does that mean he'd been planning Hay's murder? Eventually he gets taken away by policemen for what's expected to be a sentence of two or three years, but I'm not sure that shouldn't have been a capital charge.
Later in the film, Hay finds himself among natives on a desert island. You can probably imagine it. We're talking about a bunch of black actors in skins, carrying spears and being thrown into ignorant religious awe by the BBC World Service on a radio. This could have been excruciating and well-nigh unwatchable, but surprisingly it's not that bad. It's not offensive and the black characters are being portrayed fairly. They're uneducated, but they're no pushovers and more powerful than the whites. Even Will Hay never manages to get into a position of superiority over them, but merely gets himself regarded as an equal because of his control over technology. The tribal chief in particular is someone you don't want to mess with. They're cannibals, for a start. Note also that the only moment that could be construed as racism would be when the villain calls the chief "Sambo", which (a) wouldn't have played the same in 1936, and (b) doesn't stop him from getting hogtied and turned into a prisoner.
The cast is mildly noteworthy. This was apparently the first movie to team up Hay, Moffatt and Marriott, plus a slightly disorientating touch in that one of the characters is called Maryatt (same pronunciation). There's also dear Norma Varden as Olivia Potter-Porter, as usual playing an adorable old bat who trusts Will Hay and believes everything he says. The woman must be retarded. Varden's a lovely person, but I found her scenes slightly uncomfortable thanks to Hay continually shovelling his horse manure all over this gullible innocent.
I called the story formulaic, so I should probably elaborate. Stage 1: Will Hay is a good-for-nothing who's leeching off his relatives. Stage 2: after a few token plot convolutions, he finds himself getting an unlikely job. Stage 3: he makes vague efforts at doing this job and fails miserably for about an hour. Stage 4: the magic plot fairy saves him. The end. It's also rather bitty. Varden and her partner are only around for long enough to give Hay his job, then they vanish from the film. Similarly the happy ending is a particularly gratuitous deus ex machina, with Hay happening to come across a boat in trouble and accidentally rescuing it through bad seamanship. At least in his other films he'll have prevented a robbery or something.
There are a few points of interest. The desert island natives include some pretty women and Hay seems to be popular with them, but I don't think it even occurs to him to take advantage. When he takes a girl into his hut, it would seem that he's merely taking another opportunity to tell someone his stories. I also liked the script's sadism with the radio. However there are a few moments which pull you out of the film, such as the ridiculously old sea scout troupe and the comedy bong noises that you'll hear when men get hit on the head.
I didn't hate this film. I wasn't actually in pain while I watched it. That's about as far as I'll go when it comes to assessing its entertainment value. I definitely wanted Hay dead and I was consistently on the side of whoever he was up against, even (no, especially) if they were trying to kill him. I like the villains and Norma Varden, but that's about it, I'm afraid. There are some outstanding Will Hay films out there, but this isn't one of them.