The history of Appellate Judge James A. Stewart went well. He had a little trouble with the math, though.
"Haven't gone anywhere, seen anything. Stuck in a silly little shop."
The History of Mr. Polly isn't science fiction, even if it's based on a story by H.G. Wells (The War of the Worlds). Instead, it's about life, in particular the life of a dissatisfied middle-aged British man; a story that still has resonance for a modern era, especially in times of recession.
It's part of the Rank Collection from VCI.
Facts of the Case
Young Alfred Polly (John Mills, Great Expectations), a reader and daydreamer, gets fired from the clothing store where he works. He's not broke for long, though, since his father has died and left him £500. Polly is advised to invest in a shop. At least at first, he resists, investing in a bicycle instead, but he soon succumbs to the pressure toward shopkeeping and marriage.
At middle age, Polly regrets both the shop and his wife Miriam. After a failed attempt at suicide, he walks off. He comes to an inn, where he's promptly hired as a ferryman and handyman. However, Polly's fresh start could be interrupted by a bully who wants to run him off and shake down the widow who runs the inn.
Right off the bat, as Alfred Polly hides behind a stack of boxes to avoid an angry boss at the clothiers, John Mills establishes a flair for physical comedy. It's backed up with a thin, meek voice that immediately establishes Polly as "weak," as his wife later puts it. The young Polly has dreams and big words (including a lot of made-up ones like "intrudaceous"), but he also has self-doubts and too many people who want to steer him to their idea of the right course. Years later, Polly is grumpy, bickering with neighboring shopkeepers, but that thin, meek voice and the self-doubt it contains is still evident, making him sad rather than nasty. Mills makes the character real, even as he's running around the inn in comical flight from a bully or trying his hand at punting as a ferryman, nearly drowning his first customer.
While the treatment of H.G. Wells's story is mostly comical, Mills gives Polly just enough depth to make the occasional dramatic scene heartfelt, as when he protests to God about his choices. This gives the story a boost at the end, as Polly compares his old existence and his new life.
The print is restored, and there's a comparison between the original and the remastered version. The contrasts are sharper, flecks are gone, and flickering is reduced a lot. The black-and-white picture is still heavy on shadows that obscure faces or details occasionally, though. The score is sprightly, usually playing up the silliness of Polly's escapades.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
After John Mills, the rest of the cast doesn't get much to do. They're just illustrations of Mr. Polly's history. Betty Ann Davies (The Belles of St. Trinian's) as Polly's sour wife Miriam and Finlay Currie (Great Expectations) as the singleminded bully fare best.
The History of Mr. Polly may be farcicalaceous, but there's a serious core to it. With a strong performance by John Mills, it holds up well today.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: VCI Home Video
• Remastering Comparison
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