Polly's a Cracker
I've never read H.G. Wells novel from which "The History of Mr. Polly" is adapted from, in fact knowing Wells as only a writer of fantasy and science fiction it was a bit of surprise to see his name as the original source for this melancholy comedy. Yes you did read that right because "The History of Mr. Polly" is a melancholy comedy about a man who is basically a social misfit, happiest when he is doing his own thing or reading a book rather than conforming to expectations and societies views of what is right. And that is for me an important point because if you can empathise with his character, the social misfit whose timidness comes from years of nagging to be more normal you will love "The History of Mr. Polly", if you just see him as a bit of a quirky character then it just becomes a light-hearted comedy which doesn't always work.
After being late for work again having been immersed in yet another book Alfred Polly (John Mills - The Way to the Stars) finds himself unemployed, not that it bothers him because he didn't enjoy the job anyway. And whilst time passes with no sight of a new job his luck changes when he inherits a sizeable amount of money from his late father. As Alfred tries to work out what do with his money he finds himself trying to conform to society by getting married to cousin Mirriam (Betty Ann Davies - The Belles of St. Trinian's) and running his own shop. But 15 years on and his life is miserable as conforming is not for him especially with Mirriam nagging and putting him down all the time, so it is time for a change.
Personally I found it really easy to understand the character of Alfred Polly because to be honest I share some similarities and that makes "The History of Mr. Polly" a very easy movie to understand and feel a connection to. It is easy to understand why Alfred comes across as such a timid character as you can fill in the gaps, realising that he had probably been nagged and bossed about all his life by those who don't understand that he is not like them. You can also understand that trying to conform makes him miserable and he needs to march to his own rhythm, do things his way as otherwise he won't achieve anything. And you also understand that when he does try to conform the pressure gets to him causing him to think in strange ways as he looks for a way out.
The thing is that if you don't fully connect to the character of Alfred Polly then "The History of Mr. Polly" becomes this jaunty light weight comedy about a man who is a bit of a timid oddball. And I can see how that can be because in just over 90 minutes there is a lot of story crammed in to "The History of Mr. Polly" and the significance of some of it is underplayed. One such scene is when Alfred falls for school girl Christabel only to discover that she and her friends are actually laughing at him, it is a crucial point because it leads to Alfred to try and do the normal thing by getting married and opening his own shop but you don't necessarily realise that if you don't connect with his character. It seems that director Anthony Pelissier who also adapted Wells' story has tried to include everything and in doing so doesn't always allow the scenes to breathe.
It means that if you don't full connect to the actual character you end up with John Mills delivering a fun performance of an oddball. It is a good performance because he does deliver the contrasting humour and melancholy of the character but because there is so much going on it also feels like he doesn't have the opportunity to really build the character. But as I said if you understand the actual character it becomes a different picture and then Mills does a really good job of delivering the confusion of Alfred has as he tries to live up to expectations and society but never can.
What this all boils down to is that "The History of Mr. Polly" is on one hand a fun light weight comedy about a social misfit and his up and down life as he tries to find his place. But if you can connect and understand the character of Alfred Polly it becomes a lot more and a wonderful characterisation of what being a social misfit is like, the pressure to conform, the timidness brought on from nagging and that feel of despair.