Saturday, April 4, 2020

The Admirable Crichton 1957

I first saw The Admirable Crichton when I was a young teenager. I was impressed, as it is a very funny and well-acted film, which, at that time, seemed to me to expose the weaknesses and "buffoonery" of the British class system. To my young self, the film underscored the notion that, notwithstanding our social positions and relative wealth, we are all equal so far as our moral and spiritual capacities can take us.  

When I saw it just the other night, however, I was struck by the conservative tenor of the film, for rather than advocating some Jeffersonian philosophy of equality, the film actually represents an endorsement of the familiar schedule of Stoic "truisms" that we associate with British society, and that are drawn to a pinpoint by the English in one of their more unfortunate phrases: "That's the way it is." Kenneth Moore in the role of the Butler Crichton and the tropical island "Guv"--and not very ironically, alas--is the film's chief advocate and exponent of this principle.  While not advancing something as reprehensible as the Roman apatheia, still this film strikes me (indeed, strikes me over the head) as being politically, even metaphysically, committed, first, to the British class system, and, second, to the importance placed upon people dutifully and properly playing their designated roles in society. Somewhere--and this is articulated near the end of the film by Crichton himself--the English, and the English of all social classes, got it stuck into their heads that civilization is equivalent to playing one's role. This hardly can strike me as the foundation for a respectable--or sustainable--national ethos, but there it is.  Moreover, it is curious that the central inverter of social roles and the right-to-lead-others, the right to command, and the right to expect the "natural" loyalty and admiration of his social inferiors--is Crichton himself. His social place is determined by environmental context, and it is his duty to play his role to that context. And whatever his context--be it far-flung tropical island or stately English manor--the Guv is both philosophically and vocationally committed to the view.  In that sense, The Admirable Crichton rather leaves a distasteful impression that calls to mind the grizzly sociological lessons of The Lord of the Flies.

It remains a funny film--I suppose--but (and other than my shock at its conservative pitch), now seeing it as an adult, I am wonderfully taken with how Sally Ann Howes shines in the role of Lady Mary. Miss Howes is wonderfully beautiful here, and really much more  impressive, in a forceful sense, than she appears in her very memorable and altogether better performance as Truly Scrumptious opposite Dick Van Dyke in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Note: in this recording, the film ends at 1:28:50.  Some extraneous bits from the film follow hence, evidently tacked on due to error, and can be disregarded.

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