Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Admirable Crichton ( 1957 )

Lewis Gilbert's version of The Admirable Crichton is a handsome adaptation of one of J.M Barrie's most popular plays which, although often referred to as a "satire", was more than likely Barrie's way of disguising his gentle assault on the British class system. It's also a rather unabashed look at the utter helplessness the uppercrust have when they are thrust in a commonplace situation, or in this case, an un-commonplace situation. 


Lord Loam ( Cecil Parker ) is the father of three young women, each about to be betrothed. Loam is a just man - one of those easily swayed lords of the English realm. He fancies that he desires equality as much as the average working class gent...and he does, to a point. In fact, it is his embarrassing "servant's tea party" that leads him to embark on a yachting voyage to the South Seas, along with his daughters, their suitors and the ship's staff. 

When a spot of inclement weather frightens the crew into bailing, the passengers are left floating in a lifeboat in the mid-Pacific to fend for themselves. Thankfully, their unflappable manservant Crichton ( Kenneth More ) and a servant girl ( Diane Cilento ) are dunked overboard with them....and it is Crichton who turns out to be their savior with his resourcefulness when they are marooned on a deserted island. As the toffs accustom themselves to island life they find a new social order emerging. The tables are reversed as Crichton becomes the lord of the land and they the servants; but when a passing ship comes to their rescue, Crichton must decide if they are to remain islanders or each return to their previous status. 


The Admirable Crichton, released as Paradise Lagoon stateside, was the first color adaptation of Barrie's beloved 1902 play, but not the first filming. There was G.B Samuelson's 1918 silent version, Cecil B.DeMille's lengthy 1919 retelling ( Male and Female starring Gloria Swanson ) and Paramount's Yankeefied take on the story, We're Not Dressing, released in 1934 and starring Bing Crosby and Miriam Hopkins. 

Lewis Gilbert displays a masterful hand at putting the shipwreck satire to film and Wilkie Cooper obviously delighted in photographing the island paradise, which the play could only suggest. His sumptuous Technicolor photography gave reason enough for Brits to leave their flats to see the film. 

The rich blue waters of Bermuda subbed for the unnamed South Seas island and a couple of well-placed artificial palms added to its appeal. The island sets are quite clever and were a precursor to the familiar bamboo sets of Gilligan's Island during the 1960s. 


It is really Britain's everyman, Kenneth More, however, who steals the show and makes this his own film. More isn't ones ideal image of a heartthrob that three gals would be pining over, but on a deserted island he takes on the appeal of a hero and his good points do indeed shine through. 

The always lovely Sally Ann Howes portrays the beautiful Mary, eldest daughter of the Loams, who finds she has lost her heart to her butler. Sally Ann Howes always seems to be running along a beach, but this time, alas, she is not singing "Truly Scrumptious". Cecil Parker is marvelous as Lord Loam; Diane Cilento ( Mrs. Sean Connery at the time ) plays the cockney Eliza, not unlike Eliza Dolittle; and Martita Hunt, Jack Watling, Peter Graves, Gerald Harper, Mercy Haystead and Miranda Connell round out the cast. 

The Admirable Crichton is a very entertaining and underrated little gem that has been cast adrift by the critics. It is hard to imagine watching this story unfold within the confines of a stage. It certainly was a tale meant to be filmed in Technicolor. 


Although Barrie attempted to write a comical study of the folly of civilization's class system, he left The Admirable Crichton without a moral. What comes through in this film however, is that the poor class have as much, if not more snobbery, than the rich. It is Mary who desires to remain on the island married to Crichton and living the blissful life of a pair of castaways but Crichton is stubbornly proud of his "position" and fails to conceive how the daughter of his employer can love him for himself when the setting is changed. In short, he behaves like an utter ass. 


This review is our contribution to the British Invaders Blogathon, being held at A Shroud of Thoughts. Be sure to check out all the other loverly posts being shared for this capital event. Click here to mosey over there.

12 comments:

  1. I've not heard of this movie-sounds like a good one. Thanks for writing about it!

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    1. We're glad to introduce you to the film. Hope you enjoy it when you get a chance to see it!

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  2. I've not heard of it, either, but would like for TCM to air it so that I can watch it. It sounds delightful and thank you for writing about it.

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    1. Be sure to keep an eye out for "Paradise Lagoon" on TCM's schedule, most likely they will run the film with its US release title. It certainly is a delightful film and I hope you do get to see it. Stop back here when you get a chance and let us know what you think of it then. :-)

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  3. Nice commentary. I hadn't heard of this one either, but I'll be checking it out.

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    1. It's surprising how many great films have been hidden from the public over time. Admirable Crichton ( aka Paradise Lagoon ) seems like one of those films that you would catch at 1am in the morning on an obscure channel and then remember it thirty years later.

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  4. I've never heard of this one, but it sounds interesting. I'll have to put it on my long list of films I've heard other movie bloggers talk about that I really should see.

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    1. Oh no, you got one of those lists too?! Hopefully it's not as long as ours. With every film we watch we discover eight more. If you want some more titles to add to your list, check out our Nugget Reviews. We often don't have the mental energy to pen longer reviews on films, so we just capsule review them instead. We're glad to have put you on the scent of this gem!

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  5. I haven't seen this in a long time although it's a popular 'afternoon' movie on UK TV. Kenneth More is shockingly underrated - I also love him in Reach for the Sky and Night to Remember. If you have't seen those I'd recommend them!

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    1. He certainly is underrated. We just adore Kenneth More...especially in Flame Over India ( aka North West Frontier. Why do all these films have duel titles?? ). Haven't seen Reach for the Sky yet, so we certainly will checking that one out. Thanks for your comment!

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  6. It's been some time since I last saw The Admirable Crichton, but it is a film I've always enjoyed. I think you made some very good points about it in this post! Thank you so much for contributing to the blogathon!

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    1. Thanks for hosting the blogathon, it was a great idea! I'm glad to hear that you saw the film. I don't think it's a movie that one can watch and not enjoy, there's just so much going for it. The color cinematography alone puts a smile on our face.

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