“This film was made with the enthusiastic co-operation of the Orient Line–who gravely disapproved of the whole thing.”
Having talked to any number of people over the years about British comedy, I’ve found they either like it or they don’t. There’s not a lot of in-between. This one from 1959, “The Captain’s Table,” comes to us from some of the same people who made the “Doctor in the House” series. The humor is similar, so if you’ve seen any of the “Doctor” pictures, you’ll know what to expect. I found “The Captain’s Table” worth my time, but, then, you may find my taste more tolerant than your own.
The director was Jack Lee, who did things as diverse as “A Town Like Alice,” “Maniacs on Wheels,” and “The Woman in the Hall.” The co-writers were Brian Forbes, who also penned such hits as “The L-Shaped Room,” “Seance on a Wet Afternoon,” “King Rat,” and “Chaplin”; Nicholas Phipps and Richard Gordon, who did most of the “Doctor” scripts; and John Whiting, who wrote “The Devils” and “Young Cassidy.” The producer was Joseph Janni, noted for making prestigious films like “Darling,” “Sunday, Bloody Sunday,” “Far from the Madding Crowd,” and “Billy Liar.” So “The Captain’s Table” has a surprisingly strong pedigree.
The movie follows the outline of many British comedies of the Fifties in that it’s a little bit silly, a little bit slapstick, a little bit risqué, and a whole lot affable and good-natured. It’s not so absurdly blatant or harebrained as the British “Carry On” movies and carries a much smaller shtick. One can hardly call it sophisticated humor, yet it does bring with it any number of smiles to the face without its resorting to too many exaggerated gags; in other words, it doesn’t insult one’s intelligence or taste.
John Gregson stars. If you’re a fan of British films, you will recognize him from “Genevieve,” “Pursuit of the Graf Spee,” “The Lavender Hill Mob,” and other such movies. Here, he plays Albert Ebbs, a longtime cargo ship captain whose boss promotes him to the command of a passenger liner. The character is a smart, well-meaning fellow who tries his best to fit into a situation to which he obviously does not find himself accustomed, sometimes with hilarious results as he has to deal with a larcenous crew, several pompous passengers, and a slew of randy young women.
It’s probably the young women on the voyage that make it most entertaining, both for the captain and for the audience. These “Doctor in the House” type movies always tried to titillate the viewer without stepping too far over the bounds of propriety or rules of censorship. So we find aboard the ship a bevy of beautiful women passengers, most of them out for shipboard romances. One of them manages to get herself engaged to half a dozen different men in the course of the cruise. And, of course, several of them have their eyes set on the captain, including an especially lovely, flirtatious widow, Mrs. Porteous (Nadia Gray), whom the captain can’t shake; and another equally attractive young widow, Mrs. Judd (Pegging Cummins). Mostly, the women are either in evening gowns for various formal shipboard events or bathing suits (bikinis were becoming popular back then) in the afternoons. There’s even a gratuitous beauty contest that allows all of the comely young things to don as little clothing as possible and exhibit their resources. All in good fun, however.
Among the other characters, we find that stalwart British actor Donald Sinden as Shawe-Wilson, the ship’s First Officer, a ladies’ man out to find himself a rich prize; Maurice Denham as Major Broster, a snobbish, stuffy, and very pushy shareholder in the cruise line; Richard Wattis as Prittlewell, the ship’s purser and chief embezzler; Reginald Beckwith as Burtweed, the captain’s prissy but extremely helpful steward; the venerable Miles Malleson as Canon Swingler, Malleson as always playing an aging cleric; and even a young Oliver Reed in an uncredited part as a crew member.
“The Captain’s Table” combines, as I say, some clever humor with even more lowbrow laughs–people falling down, things breaking up–so it may get a bit too silly on occasion for some people’s liking. Yet it’s all cute and harmless, innocent despite its many sexual innuendoes. The viewer will find a few hearty chuckles and a number of smaller giggles involved, the movie creating an amiable atmosphere and general good cheer.
VCI digitally restored the film, and the results look more than agreeable considering the film’s age. The keep case lists a screen ratio of 1.66:1, but the actual dimensions on the DVD are 1.78:1, filling out a widescreen television nicely. Colors look good, mostly bright and natural but fluctuating somewhat within a number of scenes; that is, you’ll notice a slight but constant flickering of tones from time to time. The screen appears quite clean, with nary a major blemish anywhere; no lines, ticks, flecks, specks, or fades, save for those few variations of hue I mentioned. Moreover, definition is reasonably sharp for a standard-def product. So, all told, I doubt that anyone would complain about the PQ.
The disc offers a choice of two soundtracks: the original monaural in Dolby Digital 2.0 and a 5.1 remix. The mono is a bit forward and pinched; the 5.1 can sometimes seem a tad hollow. Both, however, are fine, and I listened quite contentedly to the 5.1 track, which I found the smoother of the two. Just don’t think you’re going to get much surround out of the 5.1; it simply offers a marginally wider front-channel sound field and not much I could hear from the side or rear. There’s not a lot in the way of frequency range or dynamic response involved, either, but that’s the nature of the source material.
As we might expect from so old and inconsequential a film as this one, there are few extras. The main thing (besides the 5.1 soundtrack) is a picture gallery lasting a little over a minute; twelve scene selections; a main menu screen; English as the only spoken language; and English subtitles.
If you’re looking forward to anything very sophisticated from “The Captain’s Table,” the movie will disappoint you. This is a gentle, winsome little comedy, solidly within the “Doctor in the House” tradition of sometimes subtle, often frivolous British humor. Nevertheless, it passes a pleasant ninety minutes.