When Terry-Thomas made these very funny British comedies, he was at the top of his game.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

Terry-Thomas (1911-1990) is the gap-toothed British comic actor with the big mustache who rose to prominence in British comedies of the Fifties. However, American audiences probably know him best for his supporting roles in Sixties movies like "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (1963), "How to Murder Your Wife" (1965), and "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines" (1965). In any case, in this double feature from VCI Entertainment, we see him starring in a pair of British comedies, "Too Many Crooks" (1959) and "Make Mine Mink" (1960). Of the two, I have a slight preference for "Make Mine Mink," so that's the one I'm reviewing.

When Terry-Thomas made "Make Mine Mink," he was at the top of his game, playing, as usual, a rather fastidious, fuddy-duddy type who goes astray. The movie follows the tradition of "The Ladykillers" and "The Lavender Hill Mob," with a touch of "Arsenic and Old Lace" thrown in. In other words, it's sort of a combination screwball comedy and comedy of manners, with a little raucous silliness on the side. For the most part, the film is fun and funny.

Based on the stage play "Breath of Spring" by Peter Coke, the story involves a group of five single folks living in an apartment boarding house owned by the elderly Dame Beatrice Appleby (Athene Seyler). All of them, to one extent or another, feel bored with their lives, clinging only to their past dreams and glory. Dame Beatrice has been an active proponent of charities all her life, but now that she is older she finds it tiring and unproductive and is thinking seriously of giving it up. Nanette Parry (Hattie Jacques) is a hard-nosed, no-nonsense, middle-aged matron who makes a meager living teaching deportment and manners to young ladies better off than she is. Elizabeth "Pinky" Pinkerton (Elspeth Duxbury) is a flighty scatterbrain who ekes out a living repairing chinaware, Ms. Duxbury stealing practically every scene she's in. And there's Lily (Billie Whitelaw), a young woman working for her room and board as a maid in the apartment. Dame Beatrice rescued Lily from a state institution where she had been serving time for an undisclosed crime, and Lily is forever indebted to Dame Bea for her kindness.

The only man among these women is Major Albert Rayne (Terry-Thomas), an ex-military officer used to things happening precisely on schedule. He was in the Mobile Bath Unit during the War, something he'd rather not discuss. Now, he's out of work and depressed. Terry-Thomas always excelled at playing these types of bothersome twits with upper-class pretensions, now on the skids. Here, the pleasure is seeing his frustrations in trying to cope with a household of ladies, each with her own way of dealing with things.

Into their drab lives drops a mink stole. Lily finds it accidentally thrown away by a neighbor, and takes it as a gift for Dame Beatrice. But Dame Beatrice immediately recognizes that Lily couldn't have acquired it honestly and insists Lily return it. After a madcap escapade involving all of the boarders attempting to return the mink without its owner knowing it's missing, they realize it was kind of fun; it put some excitement back into their lives. Which is when they mutually decide to do such things more often, like steal minks all over London, sell them, and give the proceeds to charity. OK, it's a huge leap from their chance encounter with a lost mink to their going into business as professional thieves, but, what the heck, it's a comedy.

The Major takes charge of the gang, designing each operation like a military operation, every detail precisely planned out to the last detail. The only thing he can't count on is the irregularities in his followers; they are, after all, genteel ladies. And the only one they don't let in on their capers is Lily; they figure she's too young to get involved, and with her checkered past she might get a more-severe sentence if caught. To make matters worse, Lily's new boyfriend is an immensely naive policeman.

Anyway, the movie mainly recounts the comic misadventures of this unlikely gang as they go about their newfound criminal ways. It's a bright, sprightly farce, sweet and ironic. "Can we in all conscience neglect our moral obligations?" asks Dame Beatrice when faced with the prospect of giving up their life of crime and depriving her charities of the gang's loot. While most of the humor is gentle and grows naturally out of the character relationships, there is some slapstick involved, too, a jaunty if overused musical track, and several laugh-out-loud moments.

"Make Mine Mink" gets a little too silly on occasion, but that's the way with these things. Besides, there's one very cute scene at Shanghai Harry's bar on the waterfront that parodies "The Third Man" and practically makes the whole film worthwhile all by itself.

"I say, steady on!" It's a delightful film.

The only bad news in the video department is that "Make Mine Mink" comes in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, which may or may not have been its original size, given that by 1960 most all films appeared in wider screen dimensions. In addition, "Too Many Crooks," made a year earlier, comes in widescreen, 1.78:1, but it's non-anamorphic, meaning if you have a widescreen TV, you'll either have to put up with black bars framing the picture or use your remote to stretch the picture to fit.

Beyond that bad news, the rest is all to the good. VCI digitally restored the picture in both movies to good effect, especially "Make Mine Mink," which displays a sparkling image, excellent black-and-white contrasts, strong black levels, and fairly sharp detail and delineation. There is a very thin layer of inherent print grain, which is fine; there are almost no scratches, flecks, specks, fades, lines, or noise in evidence; and there are only a few noticeable moiré effects.

The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack will not win any awards for ultimate sonic splendor, but it does its job with commendable efficiency in both films. It's clean, clear, and lively, with a good high end, not much bass, and excellent midrange clarity. Although it's also a little forward, it's not at all distracting.

The major "extra" is the second full-length feature on the disc. Understandably, there wasn't room for much more. What we do get are twelve scene selections for each movie, a main selections menu, and a real, honest-to-goodness solid-plastic keep case.

Parting Thoughts:
Both of these Terry-Thomas comedies are worth watching, so the pair of them on one disc make for something of a bargain. As I said earlier, I have a preference for "Make Mine Mink," a British comedy missing only Alec Guiness or Peter Sellers, but in the vein of Fifties comedies with these fellows. "Make Mine Mink" will tickle your funny bone without offending your sensibilities.


Film Value