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Home > Film

Robin Ince's Top 30,000 Films Of All Time

#29,968: Green Man

26 September 2003

Who would wish to be such a thing as a national treasure? The accolade of being held closely to the nationís damp body and praised by those you may well despise all sounds rather unpleasant. Itís the kind of merit given to those who have spent a great deal of time being exposed or discussed on Radio 4.

National treasures are frequently the eccentric and otherworldly, the sort of people who may well have spent much of their lives being spat at by society or at the very least misunderstood. They normally wear a green woolen jacket. They have either been in Alan Bennett plays, or they are Alan Bennett. This does not include Alastair Sim, but he did work with Patricia Routledge twice, so that should be good enough.

www.ycdtot.com/kua

Alastair Sim is Britainís greatest comedy actor, a mixture of oddness, warmth and sly charm. No actor could improve on his Ebeneezer Scrooge and with TV executives casting the likes of Ross kemp in the role, the competition will continually thin. As The Inspector in An Inspector Calls his mix of moral intensity
and creepiness are magnificent, his lazy-eyed, skull-like grin at the end of the film has remained haunting my head since I first saw it as a child. His most famous film role is probably Miss Fritton, the headmistress of St Trinians (in the Belles of St Trinians and then reprised in Blue Murder at St Trinians), though he was wise enough to duck out of the later incarnations.

There is a St Trinian chapel on the Isle of Man.

www.isle-of-man.com/manxnotebook/parishes/mn/marown.htm

Sim doesnít play Miss Fritton like some overbearing drag queen, he pitches the performance perfectly wringing out twice as many laughs by being a funny character, rather than gaining laughs from being a bloke in a dress.

Sim also famously 'adopted' George Cole (and his mother) who came to live with him and his wife Naomi. He took over his education and taught him in the ways of acting.

The Green Man is one of the many films Cole and Sim made together. It is a simple story, the sort that gets regular airings on weekday afternoons when TV schedulers register the existence of the old (this officially finishes at 5pm). Alastair Sim plays a shy clockmaker who also doubles as an international assassin (it is believed that the world of cogs, springs and chimes is littered with the bloodthirsty - something to do with the ticking sending them mad). He tells us of how he started his career in fruity tones, though it is hard to decide what exact fruit they are. He blew up his headmaster as a child using a combination of electric pen and explosive ink pen, and so set about killing leaders and despots across the world. His latest assignment is to dispose of a financial man at The Green Man pub. Unfortunately, a nosy paramour secretary and an overly keen vacuum cleaner salesmen put paid to that, and so the farce begins.

The Green Man is a film that oozes Englishness; the pipe smoking bobby who plays chess with the assassin, the charming quartet of middle-aged spinsters who entertain in the pubís lounge bar, the stuffy brolley wielding radio announcer who fears his fiancťe is having it away with the salesman, and Terry-Thomas.

chorus.rad.mcw.edu/doc/00801.html

Some may damn this as no more than a small budget farce, but the gusto of Simís performance, and all those around him (he certainly trained Cole well), and the verve of the script by Launder and Gilliat, means that there is no time for judgement, and therefore no need for it. Simís flirtatious coaxing of the ladiesí Quartet into increased inebriation mixed with his behind their backs desperation to kill the lucky financial dullard is sublime comedy, that remains effective 50 years on.

At 78 minutes the success of The Green Man might also suggest that the current crop of movies could do with not only more interesting performances and better constructed plots but also with a bit more trimming. Hollywoodís current obsession with two and half hour running times means that even the better ideas fall flaccid somewhere after the 100 minute mark.

Alastair Sim died of cancer in 1976 and left his body to medical science. All in all, he was a charming man.




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