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The Return of I’m Alright Jack (1959)

Goon Show

By Paul Risker.

“I’m alright Jack” is English slang for an individual focused solely on his/her self-interest. Though John and Roy Boultling’s 1959 satirical masterpiece borrows the phrase for its title, it’s not a film lost in its own self-interest or in possession of a complacent air.

With a more than adequate DVD release back in 2007, the capitalist machine shows us that there is yet life in it by churning out what could be considered an unnecessary Blu-Ray release. So in keeping with the unnecessary, here are some unnecessary notes on a British gem:

Exuding confidence and perfected satire, I’m Alright Jack alongside The Ladykillers (1955), Heavens Above (1963), Dr. Strangelove (1964) and Being There (1979), as well as his work on The Goon Show (1951-1960) stands as one of Sellers’ finest moments as a performer. The comedic shades Sellers’ exhibited have secured his legacy as one of Britain’s finest comedians. From a criminal in Alec Guinness’ Ealing gang, to an array of comedic incarnations in Dr. Strangelove that rivals Kubrick’s credit for the picture as auteur, to the tragic figures of Heaven’s Above and Being There, few actors besides Sellers have exhibited the penchant for reinvention across multiple films, as well as within a single film. He possesses an uncanny ability to transform physically therein creating a multitude of masks for the man himself to hide behind, and distract from his tumultuous personal life. Playing both the union steward Fred Kite and Sir John Kennaway, Seller’s presence in I’m Alright Jack shares an intimate connection with The Goon Show, The Mouse that Roared (1959) and Dr. Strangelove for measured multiple roles. But of all of these perhaps it is The Goon Show that lies at the heart of Sellers’ adeptness as a performer, through not only his physical but also his vocal presence. Voicing fifteen characters during his work on the program, Sellers’ vocal sensibilities were the building blocks of his characters, and the voice of Fred Kite, which captures the playful yet perceptive comedic tones in the characters righteous indignation and stubborn ideals, creates a perfect combination of Sellers’ physical and vocal onscreen presence.

Neither pro nor anti-union, I’m Alright Jack is a masterpiece in the art of neutrality. Perhaps what the Boulting Brothers comprehended was the value in not taking sides, and in so doing painted the contemporary audience of a picture of the conflict of ideals and the swirling and budding chaos that would lead to a drama in British society in the coming decades. It was the anticipation of the strikes, specifically the foresight of how the vulnerability of proud and righteous personalities would bring about defeat for the unions that continue to attest to it as a work ahead of its time. I’m Alright Jack champion’s cinema as a socially relevant art form – an intelligent and insightful cultural work that exhibited the invaluable resource of comedy and cinema’s social consciousness.

Jack

6 Comments for “The Return of I’m Alright Jack (1959)”

  1. There’s only one problem with this piece – IT’S TOO SHORT! These brilliant black and white comedies — freighted with a great deal of solid social commentary, even in the early ST. TRINIAN’S films, which have lately degenerated into absolute dross — demonstrate that this was a key period in British cinema — TWO WAY STRETCH, THE WRONG ARM OF THE LAW, the list goes on and on. Great stuff– and what I remember Peter Sellers for the most, before the dreary procession of Pink Panther films. Yet, since these films are in B&W, they almost never get screened. It’s one the most exciting periods in British cinema – the early 60s – and these films deserve a great deal more attention. Carry on, Paul! More! More!

  2. Very nice piece Paul. Sellers was a great actor, who was believable in any role he took. He was very convincing as the nasty villain Lionel Meadows in Never Let Go (1960) and as the drunken projectionist in The Smallest Show on Earth (1957). I thought he was great as Kite in I’m All Right Jack. I enjoyed all his films. We lost a great talent too early.

  3. I agree with Wheeler above.. The only thing that disappointed me about this article was the length of it! I’ve mentioned on a few other comments here that – once upon a time – I was a film student. During Film History classes I always adored the old black and white comedies. Charlie Chaplin was the go-to classic performer, but Buster Keaton was my favorite.
    This article has given me something new to look forward to and to discover. This will be right up my alley!

  4. Peter Sellers was a true gift to cinema, particularly to comedy but as the article reminds us, he reinvented himself numerous times and was capable of a depth of character and a plethora of characters seldom seen today.Thank you for the great article and with that, I’m off to watch Dr. Strangelove!

  5. Thanks for the walk down memory lane with all of those great ( and I do mean great) Peter Sellers movies. I own copies of The Mouse That Roared, Being There and Dr Strangelove…. But I have never seen I’m Alright Jack. Glad to hear that they have brought it out. Sellers is such an artist and did physical comedy so well. I was insulted when they tried to remake The Pink Panther series with Steve Martin…I like him…but why would he even have attempted to follow in Sellers’ footsteps. Please Hollywood leave Being There alone.

  6. Gwendolyn Audrey Foster r

    I am continually amazed at how little most people know about British comedy. I suppose part of the problem is black and white? Maybe another part of the problem is they are not shown much on television? Whatever the reasons, many are unaware of all the wonderful British comedy from the 50s and 60s.

    It is so much more funny than current trash put out by Hollywood and labelled “comedy.” Let’s face it – the Brits own the comedy gene-pool. Look at Jon Oliver! Sure, the Brits can be as smutty as the rest, but there is always a balance with verbal humor, physical schtick, rapid-fire delivery, and a pleasant and bizarre understanding of the hilarity of existence itself. Even in more recent Brit tv like Father Ted. Drop dead hilarity. Most of my students and young people are lucky to know Dr. Strangelove….little do they know what they are missing. I’m really not sure if these movies are available on Netflix. I doubt it.

    Thanks for spreading the word here.

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