It was a bit of a shock that, when Alec Guinness passed away many, so many of his obituaries insisted that "Star Wars" was his most memorable film. For those unfortunates who remember him that way, the Ealing Films he made during the 1950s are absolutely essential viewing. Not least among those films is this little opus, in which Guinness portrays an ex-naval officer who suffers from catastrophic mal-de-mer. Unable to go at sea but not wishing to be away from it, he assumes command of the only type of "vessel" he can endure, an amusement pier. It is Guinness's characterization that makes this film work. The very fact that he plays Captain Ambrose absolutely straight is what makes the character so funny, including a wonderfully spot-on parody of Noel Coward's speech to his crew from "In Which We Serve": "An efficient pier is a happy pier". Of course, it is granted that audiences back in 1957 undoubtedly picked up on allusions such as that much more readily than audiences would today. The film also features a running theme prevalent in many British comedies of that period, namely the individual overcoming big bureaucracy or big business. In this case, when the local town council threatens to close down his amusement pier, the imperturbable Captain Ambrose outwits them by means of the clever expedient of registering his pier as a ship, under a foreign flag of convenience. It's just the sort of solution one would expect from the inventive studio that brought audiences "Passport to Pimlico". I understand this film was also released under an alternative title, "Barnacle Bill". However, under any title, it is a worthy addition to the seemingly limitless pantheon of characters portrayed by the remarkable Alec Guinness.
All at Sea
All at Sea
A seasick sea Captain commands an amusement pier despite local opposition.
March 21, 2020