Judge Eric Profancik wonders if remakeitis has reached a new low.
Nice guys graduate last!
I recently reviewed the 2006 release School for Scoundrels, which I didn't realize was a remake—though I should have since new ideas are so rare these days. Having watched that one, I thought it might be interesting to have a chance a see the original 1960s movie. How similar would the two be? What constituted a "scoundrel" back in the day? Which would be the better of the two?
Henry Palfrey (Ian Carmichael, The Royal) is a nice guy who finishes last. Everything seems to go against him and everyone walks over him. Fortune did seem to smile on him when he bumped into April Smith (Janette Scott, Crack in the World) on the bus. The two made a connection and Henry took her out on a date. Unfortunately while at the posh restaurant, rogue Raymond Delauney (Terry-Thomas, Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River) took an immediate liking to April and brazenly put all the moves on her. She seemed to like it, and Henry sat helpless. That was the last straw. He's had enough of the abuse and has enrolled in Mr. Potter's (Alastair Sim, Waterloo Road) School of Lifemanship. Here, men like Henry learn the art of self-confidence and the skills necessary to always be "one up" on your opponent. Upon completing schooling, he takes aim at all the people who have walked over him. At the center of his sights is Raymond. He will knock the arrogant man down a few notches and hopefully win back the beautiful April.
The two films are similar as long as you look at it from a general, thematic perspective. Both films detail a hapless man looking to change his course in life; both have a man with a budding love interest being stolen by another man; both center around a school teaching "lifemanship"; and both have a pivotal scene on a tennis court. Hence, both follow the same plotline. But it's getting from start to finish that's drastically different, and that centers on the definition of "scoundrel."
This original British movie is different because much has changed over the past forty-five years. What was considering scurrilous behavior then is seen as no big deal today. In 1960, being a scoundrel was simply attending such a school and being somewhat manipulative. In 2006, being a scoundrel involves excessive foul language, humiliation, total manipulation, vandalism, poor sportsmanship, lying, cheating, stealing, and any other dirty trick necessary to make sure you trample your opponent. It's gone from being "one up" to burying your nemesis.
As such, this original version of the film is better and more enjoyable. Its sense of innocence and dry British wit was a pleasant, refreshing change of pace from the frenetic mean-spiritedness of its remake. The gentle, quaint manipulations from that time seem a more respectable, gentlemanly way of accomplishing things. It's making sure you succeed and not making sure you're ruining someone else's life. I appreciated the throwback to simpler times. Beyond that, while I liked the acting from Billy Bob Thornton and Jon Heder, I enjoyed Ian Carmichael and Terry-Thomas' playful, pressured banter more. (Though why is the gap-toothed Terry-Thomas the star, let alone such a debonair bachelor in this film?) In the remake, headmaster Thornton is downright evil, being the man trying to steal Heder's girlfriend. In the original, the headmaster is a wizened, grandfatherly figure who is always there to support his students.
School for Scoundrels (1960) is a black and white film (contrary to the colorized DVD cover). Overall, the contrast in the blacks and grays is respectable, with crisp distinctions. I did not notice any transfer errors on the print. Due to lack of any technical data, I made an educated deduction that this print is non-anamorphic. A Dolby 2.0 mono track makes up your only audio choice; the dialogue is clean and easy to understand, creating to a satisfying listening experience. Oddly, the only subtitle choice is Spanish. There are no bonus items available.
In remake-obsessed Hollywood, the tradition continues—even when we don't realize it. School for Scoundrels (1960) is a charming, sweet, fun film. I enjoyed watching this one, though I do wish the ending wasn't as trite as it was. Give this one a rental at your favorite DVD establishment.
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