UK / 1959
Director: Robert Hamer
Writers: Patricia Moyes, Hal E Chester, from the books Gamesmanship, Oneupmanship and Lifemanship by Stephen Potter
Cast: Ian Carmichael, Terry-Thomas, Alastair Sim, Janette Scott, Dennis Price, Peter Jones, Edward Chapman, John Le Mesurier
“The gentle art of getting and remaining ‘one up’ on the next fellow, so painstakingly chronicled by British humorist Stephen Potter in his series of books, is engagingly translated to the screen in this delicate British comedy,” wrote Variety.
Potter’s classic books Gamesmanship, Oneupmanship and Lifemanship were wittily adapted and given a neat narrative by Patricia Moyes and executive producer Hal E Chester, working from an uncredited original screenplay by Peter Ustinov. Ian Carmichael was perfectly cast as the latest pupil at the College of Lifemanship, where he recounts his depressing history to Principal Alastair Sim. Carmichael has been bullied in his office by his chief clerk, humiliated by head waiter John Le Mesurier, tricked by second-hand car salesmen Dennis Price and Peter Jones into buying an expensive wreck, and he has lost his girl (Janette Scott) to the insufferable Terry-Thomas. A short course of Lifemanship reverses the situation: Carmichael returns to wreck the nerves of his chief clerk, gets his own back on Price and Jones – and he practices gamesmanship to win back Scott from Terry-Thomas. Sim is astounded by Carmichael’s new ploy – he uses sincerity to propose to Scott. And Terry-Thomas becomes Sim’s new pupil …
Robert Hamer, director of such Ealing classics as Kind Hearts and Coronets, brought his sly and sophisticated style to the film to excellent effect and, noted Monthly Film Bulletin, he “has directed with intelligent restraint.” He also made the most of a prime cast of polished comedy players. “Sim,” wrote Variety, “personifies the master lifeman down to the minutest detail – a brilliant performance… Carmichael is a delight… and Terry-Thomas masterfully plummets from one-up to one-down.”
CEA Film Report found Sim “delightful” and Carmichael “an admirable choice” and wrote: “The plottings and ploys of the Potter series of books on “how to win without actually cheating” have been amiably brought to the screen… off-the-beaten-track comedy entertainment.” (Hamer fell ill three weeks before the end of shooting and an uncredited Cyril Frankel completed the film).