Last Tuesday here on the blog, I offered up a review of a brand new VCI Entertainment DVD release of British film comedian Norman Wisdom’s first two starring feature films for the Rank Organization. Released in tandem with the Wisdom movies was another disc containing two features that star one the UK’s best-loved cinematic mirthmakers, who galvanized audiences from 1934 to 1943 with a string of popular vehicles that usually (but not always) featured him as a scowling schoolteacher, futilely trying to keep his young charges in line. The character of headmaster was quite familiar to William “Will” Thompson Hay, who had played the charade as an established music hall performer, a profession he embraced at the age of 21 (he had originally planned a career in engineering) after watching W.C. Fields juggle in a performance at a London theater.
Will Hay Double Feature Volume 1 spotlights the first two films the comedian made for Gainsborough Pictures—though he had previously appeared in three features for Elstree/British International, Those Were the Days and Radio Parade of 1935 in 1934, and Dandy Dick the following year. In Boys Will Be Boys (1935), Hay portrays Dr. Alec Smart—a professor who applies for the position of headmaster at a school called Narkover. Narkover is not without its unsavory reputation; many consider it a breeding ground for career criminals…and in fact, when Hay’s Smart asks the governor (Percy Marsh) of a prison at which he teaches part-time for a recommendation the official muses that since one of their newest “guests” is the former headmaster of Narkover it would be only fitting to send them Smart as “one goes in, one goes out” gesture. However, the governor is convinced that Alec would indeed be a poor candidate for the position…but with the help of ex-convict Faker Brown (Gordon Harker), who substitutes a forged recommendation letter from the gov, Smart is soon chosen to head up Narkover.
As predicted, Lady Dorking’s jewels are eventually stolen and are passed around among several of the film’s characters before finding their way into a rugby ball that’s used in a game between the current students and Narkover grads. A wild and wooly melee during the match occurs as the scrambled to recover the gems ensues, but Smart manages to foil the crooks by kicking the ball towards several policeman and ensuring the rounding up of the usual suspects.
Matthew Coniam says that Hay’s 1938 film Hey! Hey!
which teams him with the great Edgar Kennedy, was an attempt to introduce Hay
to American audiences though it never quite panned out) but they should be—and VCI
is doing what they can to rectify this mistake.
The company has already announced three more double features (one of them
a triple feature) of Will’s work—and when Volume 2 (containing Windbag and Good Morning) gets released on February 5th, you can be sure that
it will find its way to the DVD player here at Rancho Yesteryear. USA