Ealing Studios produced a broad range of films in its first decade and a half of existence, including a number of respected documentaries as well as the classic horror film Dead of Night and the trendsetting “kitchen sink noir” It Always Rains on Sunday (my recommendation here). But it’s the marvelous comedies Ealing made in the decade after the war that everyone remembers best. In one of most insanely productive period in any studios’ history, in 1949, Ealing released three still-beloved comic films in the span of two months! I have already recommended the best of this troika — Kind Hearts and Coronets — and now wish to endorse the wonderful runner-up: Passport to Pimlico (No disrespect to Whisky Galore! which is a good fun, but comes in third against the stiffest possible competition).
Passport to Pimlico was scripted by T.E.B. Clarke, who later won an Oscar for writing another Ealing classic, The Lavender Hill Mob. Clarke’s agreeably ridiculous plot runs thus: In a London neighborhood still recovering from Hitler’s remodeling efforts, an unexploded bomb goes boom, revealing a hidden chamber stuffed with gold relics and an ancient royal charter establishing that Pimlico is in fact part of Burgundy! The locals are at first excited to realize that they are legally freed of the hated ration book system, but are soon overrun by spivs from all over London. Meanwhile, negotiations with this new foreign country are bounced between the Home Office and Foreign Office until everything breaks down and Pimlico/Burgundy is blockaded by Her Majesty’s Government. But the English Burgurdians are not about to back down, especially not when the descendant of the Duke of Burgundy shows up to claim his title and lead the resistance.
All the Ealing trademarks are here: Mocking British institutions but loving British people, celebrating those who fight back against toffs, nosy parkers, and The Establishment, throwing a warm glow on small groups of people who bond through common endeavour, and most of all providing laughter, laughter, and more laughter.
As in many other British productions of this period, an ensemble of largely stage-trained actors sparkle here in parts large and small: Stanley Holloway, Dame Margaret Rutherford, Paul DuPuis, Sir Michael Hordern, Basil Radford (who was also in Whisky Galore!), Naunton Wayne and more. I hate to pick out any one performance for praise among such a stellar group, but Hermione Baddelly as a brassy seamstress with ambition in her veins absolutely kills it here. Under the fine direction of Henry Cornelius, the cast delivers a warm, funny and uplifting movie that helped cement Ealing as the kings of post-war British comedy.
p.s. Do everything you can to watch the restored version rather than a battered old print.