Film Review – Laughter in Paradise (1951)

Whilst perhaps best known for being an inferior Ealing inspired comedy, and more recently for Audrey Hepburn’s first role in an English language film. Laughter in Paradise is much richer than this superficial prerequisite suggests. Laughter in Paradise is a subtle, light and at times heartfelt comedy in which its plot elevates the actors comedic capabilities s. Whilst at times it feels heavy handed in trying to find a profound and insightful message and a lesson for its characters

The story follows an eccentric millionaire, who on his deathbed can still been seen playing practical jokes, shown by lighting his maid’s newspaper. His escapades continue from the grave too. His loved ones gather for the reading of his will, all waiting in excited anticipation for their share of his supposed large fortune. Although the reader of said will, leaves them with their challenge from their deceased relative to grant their entitlement to his fortune. The pulp crime novelist Deniston played by Alistair Sim has to spend 28 days in jail, playboy bachelor Simon suavely played by Guy Middleton must marry the first unmarried woman he speaks to, the shy and bashful Herbert embodied by George Cole is forced to try and rob his bank and the extremely snobby Agnes; Fay Comtpon must work as a housekeeper for month in a middle class home.

The film shines with its use of subtle physical comedy, and Zampi’s moments of competent direction. Whilst these set pieces can often be abrasive in similar comedies here they are nuanced and well worked. The film effortlessly blends a feeling and tone of a lighthearted easily digestible comedy as well as farcical and amusing comedy. Without a doubt the best scenes and dialogue are gifted to Alastair Sim and with good reason. His comedic timing and ungainly manner make his scenes memorable and amusing. His characters ironic nature as a pulp crime author is at times hilarious with some great set pieces. That being said the supporting cast particularly the main three characters play well against and as supporting to Sim.

The blu-ray transfer is very clean and studio canal have done an admirable job of the preservation and clean up of the film in the video and audio department. The release includes some decent extras most notably Steven fry’s discussion on the film and its central star Alistair Sim. The others include a fairly poor audio quality Alistair Sim at Edinburgh University speech and a 1930’s Ministry of information short film entitled ‘Nero: Save Fuel’ also starring Alistair Sim. Needless to say the extras are incredibly loaded with extra Sim content focusing on the film’s central star, and for a good reason for his terrific and measured performance in this charming film.

Laughter in Paradise is a light, amusing and confused British comedy. The comedic set pieces afforded to Alistair Sim and to a lesser extent George Cole is where the film shines with its farcical nature. However, the film struggles with balancing its central characters regarding entertainment value, Zampi’s direction means it lacks the high pace, sharp wit of many earlier comedies and lacks the truly subtle and clever notions of other comedies of the period. Meaning Laughter in Paradise unfortunately finds its self-stuck in the middle with a failure to establish its tone.

Comedy | UK, 1951 | U | Blu-Ray, DVD | 29th June 2020 (UK) | Studiocanal UK | Dir.Mario Zampi | Alastair Sim, Fay Compton, Guy Middleton, George Cole, Hugh Griffith, Audrey Hepburn