UK / 1956
Director: Gordon Parry
Writers: Philip King, Falkland L Cary (adapated from their stage play)
Cast: Peggy Mount, Cyril Smith, Shirley Eaton, Ronald Lewis, Thora Hird, Esma Cannon, Gordon Jackson, Joy Webster, Geoffrey Keen, Jack MacGowran, Peter Collingwood, Paul Eddington
The mother of all mother-in-law jokes. Peggy Mount raises the decibel levels of this durable British farce. She plays the formidable mater of delightful Shirley Eaton, scaring the bejesus out of her daughter’s naval fiancé, Ronald Lewis. Sailor Beware! benefits from an abundance of music hall mirth, and a supporting cast that includes Gordon Jackson, Thora Hird and Cyril Smith.
Able Seaman Albert Tufnell (Lewis) docks, shipshape and eager to marry his belle, Shirley Hornett (Eaton). Together with best man Carnoustie Bligh (Jackson), he arrives at his beloved’s home and immediately regrets it. The house is the fortress of Ma Hornett, and as terrifying future mothers-in-law go, she takes some beating. “Yer can’t reason with men – yer gotta train ’em!” she barks at ear-busting volume. Pa Hornett (Smith), a hen-pecked shell of a man, is proof that she practices what she preaches.
Thankfully, Albert and Carnoustie are to stay elsewhere, at the boarding house of disgraceful gossip Mrs Lack (Thora Hird). But when Albert discovers that Ma Hornett has put down a deposit on a house for him and Shirley, only three doors from her own, he decides to take a stand, and leaves Shirley high and dry at the altar. It takes some negotiating by Vicar Mr Purefoy (Geoffrey Keen) and Pa Hornett to get the young couple together again. Even Ma is moved, and after her apology, the wedding group troops back to church for a cheerful ending.
The comedy is pure seaside picture postcard – ample, bawdy and delirious, and delivered with obvious relish by the able cast. But this is Peggy Mount’s show. As The Times said, “Miss Shirley Eaton, Mr Gordon Jackson, and Miss Thora Hird play up to the spirit of the comedy, but Miss Mount scoops up the entire film and walks away with it under a massive arm.” According to the Evening Standard, the actress, who had already appeared as Ma Hornett in King and Cary’s original West End stage production of Sailor Beware!, plays her part, “with the relentless, muscle-bound reiteration that one might expect from a hippopotamus which had swallowed a parrot.”
Try and spot Paul Eddington behind the beard, playing one of Alfred’s crew.