The Card (1952)
How to Succeed in Business with A. Guinness
Maybe it's me but you watch "The Card" and you ask yourself why can't they make movies like that anymore. I don't mean black & white movies but comedies where the amusement comes from the characters and the way the story develops rather from set pieces. Not that I am against modern comedies but the effortless humour with Alec Guinness delivers in this rags to riches story, supported by a trio of women, Valerie Hobson, Petula Clark and Glynis Johns is so much more fun than anything which I have seen in recent years.
As the son of a widowed washer woman Edward Henry 'Denry' Machin (Alec Guinness - Kind Hearts and Coronets) social status should be a stumbling block but that doesn't seem to bother the entrepreneurial young man. With an eye for an opportunity and the gall to exploit it Denry soon starts to climb the ladder of success as he spots one business opportunity after another going from a humble clerk to the wealthy owner of a thrift club. But his financial success brings along with it Ruth Earp (Glynis Johns - Mary Poppins) an equally opportunist young woman who sees Denry as an endless pot of gold and manipulates him into falling for her. But Ruth Earp is not the only woman in his life as there is the Countess of Chell (Valerie Hobson) and down to earth Nellie Cotterill (Petula Clark).
Adapted from Arnold Bennett's novel "The Card" is a fun tale of rags to riches but one which has two sides working perfectly in tandem. The first side to "The Card" is the story of Edward Henry 'Denry' Machin whose entrepreneurial talents sees him going from the son of a washer woman to a successful business man. But rather than just being a tale of working hard this all about Denry's eye for opportunity and the amusing way he leverages that opportunity, from spotting a wallet on the floor that he uses to get a job with at a solicitors through to writing himself an invitation to the Countesses Ball. You end up admiring not only the gall of Denry to manufacture opportunities but his entrepreneurial spirit as he goes from rent collector to money lender, always on the look out for the next opportunity, often using a bit of insider information to make it work.
But there is another side to "The Card" and that is the women who enter Denry's life such as the Countess who he charms with his honesty through to Nellie Cotterill whose own honesty appeals to him. But the woman who makes up most of the storyline is dance instructor Ruth Earp who being as entrepreneurial as Denry spies that he is a man going places and latches on to him, tricking him into falling for her and then spending his money. This semi-romantic side adds so much comedy be it Denry manufacturing an opportunity to drive the Countess to an event on his cart or Miss Earp going on a spending spree when they holiday to Llandudno.
The great thing is that these two sides perfectly interweave so that Denry's rise from rags to riches is accompanied by the fun romantic turmoil. It means that there is barely a scene which isn't amusing and you find yourself drawn into this tale of rags to riches because it is full of so much fun. But none of it is manufactured, there are no obvious set pieces thrown into try and laughter, every scene is part of Denry's rise to being a success.
It does help that Alec Guinness is simply brilliant as Denry and not only do we warm to this opportunist man but we find him funny. But it is not forced fun as Guinness doesn't have any jokes to tell, or big comedic scenes but it is through his character and the look he gives whenever he spies an opportunity. It's the sort of comedy performance which is sadly missing from modern movies and is part of the reason why "The Card" whilst over half a century old is still so much fun.
Guinness is helped by a wonderful supporting cast be it Valerie Hobson as the Countess of Chell or Petula Clark as Nellie Cotterill although it is Glynis Johns as gold digger Ruth Earp who steals many a scene. You can't but not smile at the way Ruth manipulates Denry with the false innocence and water works causing plenty of memorable scenes. Although the most memorable is watching Ruth go from one shop to another flagrantly splashing his cash with in the background Denry becoming more and more frustrated by it. It does help that Guinness works well with each other women and there is a pleasantness to the way he naturally warms to Petula Clark as Nellie Cotterill.
What this all boils down to is that "The Card" may have been made back at the start of the 50s and tell a story from the start of the 20th century but it is still so much fun. From the interweaved story of Denry's rise from rags to riches interweaved with Miss Earp's gold digging though to the simple comedy it just draws you in and makes you smile. And it works thanks to not only the brilliant performances of Alec Guinness but also thanks the trio of women Valerie Hobson, Petula Clark and Glynis Johns who add more than just a touch of beauty to the proceedings.
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