Horseplay is better when involving at least one actual horse and horseplay is best when involving the best horse. That's one lesson The Belles of St. Trinian's have already learned along with how to make gin in chemistry class, how to draw and quarter a classmate for information, and how to rig a bet. The 1953 film has more than enough frantic confusion to be a good screwball comedy but the best bits are in its dry, matter of fact reveals, like this first shot of the teacher's common room.
The film stars Alastair Sim in two roles, siblings Millicent and Clarence Fritton, the former being headmistress of St. Trinian's, a girls' school associated with all sorts of havoc in the surrounding countryside, prompting the local police to lock themselves up when the girls are nearby and Ministry of Education administrators to look the other way when investigators they send to the school completely vanish aside from continuing to draw their pay.
Fortunately, Sim achieves a funny performance without relying on the fact that he's playing in drag--he plays Millicent as a fully realised headmistress managing to smile and stay poised if somewhat anxiously melancholy as the bank and the pawn shop slowly take complete possession of the school. The layers here aren't a man under a female façade but of a hardened criminal under a tired veneer of grace. She manages to affect some semblance of shock at what the little girls are doing in chemistry class even as she samples their wares.
The male Alastair Sim has a daughter in the school he hopes will help him rob the daughter of a Sultan. She has been enrolled in St. Trinian's by her father whose horse races at a nearby track that concerns the betting Clarence gravely.
Magnificent in supporting roles in the film are Joyce Grenfell and George Cole playing a bow-legged undercover cop and a small time cockney crook, respectively. Grenfell reluctantly took the job posing as a teacher at St. Trinian's and soon doesn't even bother stopping the girls smoking on the hockey field.
When locked in the bathroom, she diligently records damning conversations in the headmistress' office on the bathroom tile.
Cole was apparently originally hired as a shoe shine boy and now seems to have taken permanent residence in the shrubbery from which he emerges whenever someone whistles, hands in his pockets and hat covering his face.
Cole really helps sell the atmosphere of the school, thoroughly accepting the reality where he's a middleman for selling the bootleg liquor the girls produce, becoming indignant when Grenfell refers to their works as "a still" in a letter to her superior he intercepts.
The atmosphere is best created by the girls themselves, of course, who seem to be divided between suspiciously older (one even secretly married) girls and a mob of pre-teens with frazzled hair and innumerable bows.
Twitter Sonnet #624
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