Boys Will Be Boys (1935)
Director: William Beaudine
Cast: Will Hay, Gordon Harker, Jimmy Hanley
Synopsis: A schoolmaster tries to help a thief turn his life around.
Boys Will Be Boys is one of the earlier film efforts of British Music Hall comedian Will Hay (Good Morning, Boys, Oh, Mr Porter!) featuring him in the familiar role of a slightly dotty schoolmaster, but without his sidekicks Moore Marriott and Graham Moffatt. He plays Alexander Smart (quickly dubbed ‘Smart Alec’ by his unruly pupils), a teacher of dubious ability, who secures the position of headmaster at Narkover School thanks to the forgery skills of Faker Brown (Gordon Harker) an inmate at the prison in which Smart has been teaching part time.
Smart is something of a pathetic character, living alone in a one-room flat, and quickly becoming the target of cruel pranks amongst the pupils of Narkover, most of whom are destined to end up in the prison at which Smart used to teach. However, he is also the only likable character amongst a cast filled with conniving thieves, pompous windbags and wealthy dowagers. This being a 1930s British movie, the thieves are all naturally working class, and the pompous windbags all hail from the ruling class. Hay’s Smart is the everyman between them, and therefore the target of dislike from both parties.
Theo P. Finch (Claude Dampier) appears to be the only other teacher at the school, and is quite amusing as the gormless nephew of Colonel Crableigh (Davy Burnaby), whose plans to install him as the new headmaster are scuppered by the appointment of Smart by the wealthy Lady Dorking (Norma Varden — The Glass Key, Casablanca), chairman of the board of governors. It’s really only he and Hay who provide the laughs, all the other characters being foils designed to play off Hays’ scatty routines which, while funny, were yet to attain the wit and polish of the sketches to be found in his later films. The dependable Gordon Harker gives a good performance as Faker Brown, almost managing to upstage Will Hay in a couple of scenes (just catch the slack-jawed avarice with which he regards Lady Dorking’s jewels). There’s also a neatly staged sequence in which a stolen necklace is picked from various pockets while each character is being searched.
All in all, while Boys Will Be Boys isn’t one of Hay’s best efforts, it is a decent example of the type of comedy film being produced by the British studios back in the austere 1930s, and will still manage to raise a smile or two.
(Reviewed on 10th September 2005)