Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Who Done It? (1956)

Benny Hill done it, that's who! Before the famed English comedian made a name for himself on television as the star of The Benny Hill Show, he made this fast-moving farce playing a detective who sets out to capture enemy agents bent on destroying England with a weather-making machine. 

Hill stars as Hugo Dill, an ice sweeper at a skating rink who long dreamed of becoming a private detective. When he wins £100 and a bloodhound in a contest, he feels he is ready to embark on his new career. Within one day of opening his office doors, he gets embroiled in a scheme by a ruthless Iron Curtain gang to control England by using Professor Stumpf's newly-invented weather-making machine. Can you imagine what havoc the enemy could wreak if they caused rain to fall on England on a daily basis? 

Benny Hill had a natural flair for comedy and he is highly entertaining in Who Done It?, his first starring film and the last. Later on, Hill had roles in Skywatch (1960) and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1970) and guest appearances in a few other films, but he never got a picture entirely to himself again... which is a shame, since he could carry a film better than many of his comedic peers. 

The script, by T.E.B. Clarke, was written especially for Hill and has some amusing moments, especially during the finale where Hill appears in drag (of course!) but, at the theaters, the movie did not bring in the tickets expected and Ealing Studios decided not to make another Benny Hill film. In fact, after many years of outputting fine comedies, this comedy was Ealing Studios' last. Hill made a number of suggestions to improve the script prior to filming, but director Basil Dearden rejected them all. Too bad...audiences would probably have come in droves to see Hill's unique and cheeky humor on display in full force. 

Co-starring with Hill is the delightful Belinda Lee who was a busy up-and-rising star at the time. She made a number of British films before moving to Rome to focus on Italian pictures. Unfortunately, her life was cut short when she died in a car accident at the age of 25. 

Also in the cast is David Kossoff as the ringleader of the Iron Curtain group. Kossoff later appeared in one of our favorite Disney spy films The London Connection as Professor Buchinski. What makes Who Done It? so fun to watch is all of the familiar character actors who make brief appearances. These characters include Thorley Walters, Ernest Thesinger, Irene Handl, Arthur Lowe, Terence Alexander, Glyn Houston, and the always entertaining Nicholas Phipps, who was wasted in such a small part. 

While Who Done It? may not appeal to some due to its broad humor, it's a pleasant way to spend a rainy afternoon and get a few laughs. And, if you are one of the many Benny Hill fans, you'd be pleased to see him in his first screen appearance. 

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