“ Genre: Comedy / Theatrical Release: 1949 / Universal, suitable for all / Director: Henry Cornelius / Actors: Stanley Holloway, Betty Warren, Barbara Murray, Paul Dupuis, John Slater ... / DVD released 2004-06-21 at Warner Bros. / Features of the DVD: Black & White, Full Screen, PAL „
* Prices may differ from that shown
I got a free copy of this film with a newspaper a few years back so this is a film only review.
The war has ended and London bakes in a heatwave. Pimlico, like many other places across the country, is a mixture of undamaged buildings and houses and sites that have been bombed. They also have an unexploded bomb, lodged in a large open hole in the ground which has been surrounded by a makeshift cordon.
When a group of local children accidentally roll a tractor tyre down the open hole the bomb goes off and, later, local resident Arthur Pemberton slides down the hole. Seeing gold goblets and coins he convinces himself that he's been seeing things until a gold coin drops out of his clothes.
Returning to the hole with his daughter Shirley they discover a cache of treasure as well as a document with the Burgundian coats of arms on it. An inquest is held to determine what will happen to the treasure but this is thrown into stunned silence when Professor Hatton-Jones announces that the document in question was signed by Edward IV and that it gives the area on which Pimlico currently stands to the Duke of Burgundy! The document has never been revoked so, legally, Pimlico isn't part of Great Britain anymore. It belongs to the Duchy of Burgundy.
Some time later Mr. Wix, the local bank manager is threatened with a transfer by his superior. He retorts that he lives in Burgundy now and that British laws don't apply to him anymore. This one remark set off a chain of events that brings problems for both the "Burgundians" as they're overrun by "English spivs" and the British Government who can't deal with the fact that there's an area of London who are doing exactly as they please. They soon decide to subject "Burgundy" to a blockade but Burgundy strikes back in its own way.
As each side plays a tit for tat game the stakes get raised higher and higher with both sides refusing to back down....
Some of the incidents in the film were inspired by other incidents that had occurred. The idea of have a territory within a country that belonged to somewhere else was inspired by the birth of Princess Margriet of Holland in Canada during World War II. Under Dutch law royal personages not born in Holland were not eligible to feature in the line of succession. The Canadian government passed a special law decreeing that Queen Juliana's rooms in the hospital in which she gave birth were extraterritorial so that Margriet would have Dutch nationality when she was born.
The "blockade" that the Burgundians suffer in the film is perhaps reminiscent of the Berlin Blockade which had lasted from 24 June 1948 until 12 May 1949. Passport to Pimlico was released on 26 October 1949.
Made by Ealing Studios and scripted by one of their regular writers T. E. B. Clarke (The Titfield Thunderbolt, The Lavender Hill Mob) this is a quintessentially British comedy that has dated in some ways but, in other respects, remains as relevant now as it did when it was made.
Britain, after the end of World War II, was still scarred by the effects of the German bombing. Many items were still subject to rationing as the disruption to the chain of supply had still not rectified itself. This film must have stuck a chord with the British public at the time as it poked fun at ration books, had a contemporary setting complete with bombsite that filmgoers would have recognised and in jokes like a placard reading "Forget that Cripps feeling" which was a reference to current Chancellor of the Exchequer Stafford Cripps. Of course, that sort of reference would probably go over the heads of most people watching the film nowadays unless they were either alive at the time or had studied that period of history.
Where the film still works very well is how it deals with the escalation of events. One chance remark by Mr. Wix leads to the residents of Pimlico disregarding the rules on rationing, pub opening hours, music licenses etc. After all, they're Burgundians now so British laws don't apply.
However, what they fail to foresee is that this lack of law will attract all manner of "British spivs" so they soon find themselves overrun by every dodgy character in the vicinity all attempting to make money in an area where British law no longer applies.
Britain strikes back by closing the 'border' with Burgundy, thinking that that will be end of the matter and that the Burgundians will have to give in and "return to Britain". But the Burgundians fight back, starting a tit for tat series of events with the British government. In effect, each side displays that "bulldog breed" sense of spirit that the British character is so associated with. Perhaps the whole ethos of the film is summed up by Connie Pemberton (Betty Warren) at the end of this exchange:-
Fred Cowan: You can't push English people around like sacks of potatoes.
Jim Garland: English?
Connie Pemberton: Don't you come that stuff, Jim Garland! We always were English, and we'll always be English, and it's just because we are English that we're sticking up for our rights to be Burgundians!
Plotwise then, this isn't a film that going to have you guffawing your head off but the performances by the cast and the ever escalating tit for that storyline is more than enough to keep you interested and provide a few chuckles along the way. Watch out for the "Burgundians" stopping a train at their border and a scene in which, literally, a pig does fly.
The sets used hold up quite well, although the effects used for the bomb explosion are quite weak and it appears that the soundtrack to the film has a few issues in terms of clarity in some parts of the film.
In casting terms there's an interesting group of actors and actresses assembled. Margaret Rutherford would, of course, gain greater fame as Miss Marple in the early 1960s whilst Charles Hawtrey would find wider recognition with as part of the "Carry On" team. Watch out for Michael Hordern, later to voice Paddington in a small role as Inspector Bashford and character actor James Hayter, later to be the voice behind the Mr. Kipling ads, as a commissionaire. Basil Radford and Naughton Wayne will be well known to Hitchcock fans as cricket buffs Charters and Caldicott in "The Lady Vanishes", characters which they reprised in a number of films. They did however, appear as a double act in a number of other films and this is a further example of that with their roles as officals in the British Government. Those of you who have seen Carry On Cleo may well recognise narrator E. V. H. Emmett who voices the newsreel commentary here.
Overall then, although this is in some ways a dated film there's enough plot and familiar faces to hold the interest. It's not the best of the Ealing comedies but you can't help being won over by the charm of the whole thing as the fighting spirit that the British displayed during World War II is here turned against the British Government by the "Burgundians".
Stanley Holloway (Arthur Pemberton)
Betty Warren (Connie Pemberton)
Barbara Murray (Shirley Pemberton)
Paul Dupuis (Charles, Duke of Burgundy)
Jane Hylton (Molly Reed)
Margaret Rutherford (Professor Hatton-Jones)
Hermione Baddeley (Edie Randall)
Charles Hawtrey (Bert Fitch)
John Slater (Frank Huggins)
Raymond Huntley (W.P.J. Wix)
Naughton Wayne (Straker)
Basil Radford (Gregg)
Running Time: 84 minutes approx.
Certificate: U - Universal: Suitable for all
At the time of writing this film is available from HMV for £4.49. Amazon are charging £4.98 whilst Play.com are 1p more expensive at £4.99
One of my favourite films, Passport to Pimlico was a film I first saw when I was a child, and the concept of it really appealed to me.
It came out in 1949, and is set a in post second world war London, Pimlico to be precise (funny that!). It stars Stanley Holloway (also in The Lavender Hill Mob, My Fair Lady and much more), Margaret Rutherford (Miss Marple), and a very early appearance from Charles Hawtry (Carry On films).
To summarise slightly, because I don't want to give too much away, and besides, it is definitely a comedy worth seeing, there is an unexploded bomb, some kids are playing and accidentally(?) kick a tyre down the hole, which sets off the bomb, to reveal a hole (which I gather was a buried cellar) containing among jewels, coins etc, a set of important documents revealing to the inhabitants that Pimlico is in fact legally a part of Burgundy, France!
There are some terrific one-liners in this film, one of my favvourites is when the police officer exclaims "Blimey! I'm a foreigner!". Trouble ensues when borders and checkpoints are set up, then goods are restricted from entering Pimlico, so a Black Market devlopes, and the whole thing is really farcical, but the characters are so terrific (Rutherford and Holloway in particular) and all in all it's a highly entertaining way to spends 84 minutes.
What I find is that the actors were so perfect for these roles in my view, Stanley Holloway in particular, in fact I purposely sought out his films after seeing him in this one. It's a completely harmless film, and I would be happy to recommend it as safe viewing for all the family.
I'm sure that if you enjoy any of the Ealing films of the era, you will also love this.