Progress but at What Price
As I sat watching "Private's Progress" I felt surprisingly disappointed by it all especially as among British audiences it is one of the most popular Boulting Brothers comedies. The disappointment comes from the familiarity because it struck me that the Boulting Brothers had a formula, they had a group of actors they used and some ideas which they used repeatedly especially that of the inept posh lad who is a fish out of water. But the irony is that because of the cast they employ you smile because you recognize them, when you see Terry-Thomas you smile because you know he can be funny rather than for what he brings to this movie.
Whilst at university Stanley Windrush (Ian Carmichael) is called up to the army which he finds incredibly tough as he is inept at everything. Whilst there he meets Private Cox (Richard Attenborough) who knows the system and plays it, getting away with everything from the minimal work to free transport. But Stanley ends up being selected to be part of a mission to go into enemy country and bring back rare collectables. What Wally isn't aware is that the group put together by his Uncle Brig. Bertram Tracepurcel (Dennis Price) is part of a huge scam.
I am going to be really honest here and say "Private's Progress" is a movie which thrives on who is in it rather than what happens. The first half is all very familiar as Ian Carmichael stars as the posh Stanley who is a fish out of water when it comes to army life to the point that William Hartnell is cast as yet another tough drill sergeant. It is fun but as I said familiar as Stanley is accident prone and even when it comes to him meeting Private Cox and Cox's scamming ways it is still all very familiar as Cox gets one over on the Officers.
A story does finally reveal itself when in the second half Stanley gets selected as part of his Uncle's team to go behind enemy lines and it pretty much becomes apparent what the con is. It is a shame that the first half is so ordinary because this second half is entertaining with some funny scenes with the inept Stanley at the centre of them. But it also has some comical skulduggery which when certain things are revealed with have you laughing.
The thing is that as I mentioned "Private's Progress" feels like the Boulting Brothers basically took this amusing idea which fills the second half and then built their standard storyline around it using their favourite actors to fill the roles. And the daft thing is that it kind of works; when we first meet Ian Carmichael as Stanley we smile because Carmichael was great at playing the inept posh boy who is a fish out of water, whilst when we spot William Hartnell as the tough drill sergeant we smile again. And so it goes on because amongst the cast are Terry-Thomas, Dennis Price, John Le Mesurier and Victor Maddern, all very recognizable actors who make you smile by just being in the movie. But it is Richard Attenborough as wheeler dealing Private Cox, with his scams to get out of work who delivers the best laughs.
What this all boils down to is that "Private's Progress" is your stereotypical Boulting Brothers comedy which makes you laugh more by who is in it rather than what happens. It still has some great writing but far too much of it is familiar to be really memorable.