Movie Review: Where There’s a Will (1936)
Where There’s a Will (1936)
Director: William Beaudine
Cast: Will Hay, Graham Moffatt, H.F. Maltby
Synopsis: An incompetent solicitor finds himself involved in a bank robbery.
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Benjamin Stubbins (Will Hay – Boys Will Be Boys, Windbag the Sailor) is a solicitor with a taste for alcohol who waits in vain for potential clients to visit his tatty rented office while Willie, his insolent office boy, reads Western comics in the outer office and waits to be paid. Willie is played by the rotund young comedian Graham Moffatt (Oh, Mr Porter, Old Bones of the River) who, for a few golden years, formed one third of what would briefly be Britain’s most popular screen comedy team of the late 1930s. Hay, of course, would be their leader, with prematurely aged Moore Marriot (who, incredibly, was only three years older than Hay) completing the team. Hay’s need for at least one worthy comic foil is evident from the way that Where There’s a Will, which is a decent enough comedy, perks up considerably when he and Moffatt are on screen together.
Stubbins’ lack of creditors has brought the creditors knocking, and the future looks increasingly bleak for him until he becomes friendly with Nick Harris (Hal Walters – A Fire Has Been Arranged), a fellow lodger at his boarding house who introduces him to American businessman, Duke Wilson (Hartley Power – Dead of Night, Roman Holiday). Any businessman with a name like Duke Wilson has to be a little shady, and so it proves when he pays Stubbins a generous advance for tracing his family history. It turns out that the job is merely a ruse by the American to gain access to Stubbins’ office, which is situated directly above a bank that Wilson and his gang are planning to rob.
Hay’s screen persona was firmly established by the time he made Where There’s a Will in 1936; Stubbins is an archetypal Hay character, constantly seeking to project an image of efficiency and affluence, but reverting to bluff and bluster when his façade inevitably crumbles under the scrutiny of strangers, but without a pair of equally incompetent sidekicks, there’s something a little wretched about his ineptitude. His sense of isolation is amplified by his near-estrangement from his daughter, Barbara (Peggy Simpson – The 39 Steps, Young and Innocent), and the disapproval of the wealthy in-laws (H. F. Maltby – Pygmalion – and Norma Varden – Three Coins in the Fountain, Witness for the Prosecution) with whom she lives, and despite a number of effective comedy set pieces, Hay finds it difficult to prevent Stubbins’ overwhelming inadequacy from almost fatally diluting the humour.
(Reviewed 5th October 2016)