Esma CannonGarry MarshPolly WardC. Denier Warren
It's in the Air
Medium: film
Year: 1938
Director: Anthony Kimmins
Writer: Anthony Kimmins
Keywords: comedy, musical
Country: UK
Actor: George Formby, Polly Ward, Jack Hobbs, Garry Marsh, Julien Mitchell, Ilena Sylva, Frank Leighton, C. Denier Warren, Michael Shepley, Hal Gordon, Joe Cunningham, Jack Melford, Eliot Makeham, Esma Cannon, O.B. Clarence, Philip Godfrey, Bryan Herbert, Philip Ray, John Salew, Jack Vyvian
Format: 87 minutes
Website category: Comedy
Review date: 1 June 2010
That's more like it! I quite enjoyed No Limit, but it didn't make me laugh very much. This however must surely be one of George Formby's strongest comedies, with all his usual charm and a wonderful comic idea.
It's an Air Force movie, with George getting mistaken for a military man and of course making the most appalling hash of it. In addition to him being his usual simple-minded self, this time there's a running gag about him not being able to tell left from right, e.g. when in a plane's cockpit and on one side of him are the bomb release controls. Guess what happens. However it's a 1938 movie and World War Two hadn't broken out yet, so it's all very light and innocent, more like Carry On Sergeant than what you might expect of a war movie. Nazis? What are they? George's involvement in the plot begins when he thinks his sister's Air Force fiance has failed to deliver an important document before disappearing off on leave, so he borrows the man's motorbike and happily sets off to make everything all right.
The rest of the film is pretty much what you think it's going to be, but what I really loved about it was the motivation of George's character. He's wreaking havoc wherever he goes, but there's not an ounce of malice in him. On the contrary, he'd like nothing more than to explain everything and put right all these misunderstandings. It's just that senior officers keep telling him to do things. There's something irresistible about seeing the military wreaking havoc in its own ranks as a consequence of its own direct orders. Admittedly there's also a practical joker who thinks it's funny to try to get George in serious trouble, but that's okay too. No problem. He's a bad guy. It's like Police Academy, except that here the prankster is the enemy.
On top of that, George himself is adorable. You'd have to be an idiot to keep getting himself involved in these absurd situations, but that's okay because he is an idiot. That's the whole point of the character. You couldn't get angry with him for what he does, any more than you could get angry with a cow for chewing grass. Besides, he's so cheerful and takes his misfortunes in such good spirits that you can't help loving him. "If I had any more sense, I'd be daft."
This isn't a complicated film, but it's a charming and surprisingly funny one. At first I'd assumed this was going to be another George Formby non-comedy, but I think it was the scene with an uncredited Esme Cannon that changed my mind. "I could do with an 'aircut." I was definitely laughing at George's tall stories, which is noteworthy in itself because I usually dislike protagonists who tell lies that get them into trouble. However George can get away with it, simply by being lovable. It's remarkable. You can't analyse it. This is simply a man who can do and say almost anything without giving offence, because you know he's the gentlest, most guileless soul on the face of the planet. Thus it doesn't matter in the slightest that he's singing rampant filth in They Can't Fool Me and it wouldn't even occur to you not to show the film to small children and maiden aunts.
The film has some notable set-pieces. There's a motorbike ride near the beginning and a plane sequence at the end that you could almost put in a James Bond film. It's like the work of the great silent comedians in how it's bringing together stunts and danger to make comedy. However on another level completely is the sequence in which Evil Prankster persuades George that his sergeant-major's private quarters are really the soldiers' barracks for the night. There's a similar gag in Police Academy, but there it lasts twenty seconds. This film though turns it into a ballet of misunderstanding as two people somehow managing to coexist in these two small rooms and yet keep not noticing each other. It's a wonderful piece of comic choreography and the kind of gag you wouldn't get these days, again being the kind of thing you'd associate more with the silent era.
Mind you, I don't want to imply that this feels the rusty hangover of a previous cinematic era. It doesn't. On the contrary, it's a lovely film with great jokes. The fact that one of its comedy sequences is of a slightly surprising variety is just another reason to recommend it.
There's all kinds of good stuff here. I loved the bloodthirsty ambulancemen, for instance. The script's pretty much flawless and you won't find many British comedy films that work better than this, but I'd also be astonished if anyone ever remade it. The word "inimitable" is so abused and misused these days that it's almost lost its meaning, but it applies to George Formby. The man was a huge star in his day and rightly so. You couldn't recreate him. I can't think of anyone who'd get closer to what he had than Laurel and Hardy, but I don't think even they could have got away with his combination of filth and innocence. Besides, there's more to Formby than a wink and a cheeky grin. Look at the way he handles his romantic scene, for instance, which at times is pushing parody before he eventually segues into the movie's title song. He's a proper movie star and an extraordinary performer, while here he's in a seriously good film that wouldn't be a tenth of what it is without him. Anyone dismissing George Formby is a movie snob who doesn't know what they're talking about.