Old Bones of the River (1938)
Director: Marcel Varnel
Cast: Will Hay, Moore Marriott, Graham Moffatt
Synopsis: A professor travels up river in Africa to open schools. But his new pupils are not receptive and when the commander of the local base succumbs to malaria, he takes on his duties too.
Will Hay is re-united with his mismatched sparring partners, Albert and Harbottle (Graham Moffatt and Moore Marriott) in Old Bones of the River and the quick-fire interplay between the three saves this film from some distinctly slow passages that are unusual in a Hay movie. This is actually based on the characters from Edgar Wallace’s Sanders of the Rivers, but it’s doubtful Wallace ever pictured one of his stories being interpreted in such a knockabout manner.
Hay plays Professor Benjamin Tibbetts, representative of the Teaching & Welfare Institution for the Reformation of Pagans — or T.W.I.R.P for short — bringing education to the natives of darkest Africa. Trouble is, someone has beaten him to it, and the native children — naked apart from their Eton collars and strategically-positioned satchels — know more about maths and geography than their teacher. So, when the Commissioner is taken ill, Tibbetts takes it upon himself to collect taxes from the villages, where he runs into an old paddle-steamer operated by Harbottle and Albert. The three of them then run straight into a native uprising…
As usual, Will Hay is never less than superb as Tibbetts, a man blinded to his own incompetence by his sense of self-importance. There’s something a little too mean-spirited about him in this one, though, especially in the way he continually picks on poor old Harbottle. The best moments are when these two and Moffatt share the screen, especially when they attempt to bathe a baby saved from sacrifice, and when they attempt to send a morse code message that is completely misunderstood because of a missing dot. Hays’ retelling of almost every fairy tale in existence to the baby he has saved is also a highlight. Not vintage Hays by any stretch, and some may find the racist jokes offensive, but worth a look just to see Hay at work with Marriott and Moffat.
(Reviewed 18th September 2005)