Justice, Phillips and Baxter do The Great Escape
When you watch "Very Important Person" now you can't but help think that it is a rip off of "The Great Escape" with it's storyline of a PoW camp during WWII, various attempts to escape as well as a variety of very similar characters and dialogue. But the thing is "Very Important Person" came a couple of years before "The Great Escape" and is by no means a rip off, but a wonderful comedy based on a prisoner of war camp and a very important escape attempt. I say a wonderful comedy because with a cast full of British comedians filling and some wonderfully snappy writing plus of course the bolshie James Robertson Justice in the central role it cracks along at a decent pace bringing one smile after another. Even now 50 years after it was released "Very Important Person" is still fun, especially if you enjoy both PoW movies and the stereotypical comedy you get from the likes of James Robertson Justice, Leslie Phillips and Stanley Baxter.
Having being given top secret orders, eminent scientist Sir Ernest Pease KBE FRS (James Robertson Justice - Campbell's Kingdom) finds himself under German interrogation when his reconnaissance flight is hit. Refusing to tell the Germans anything other than the false rank and name of Lt. Farrow he is taken to a PoW camp where he comes under the suspicion of the British Officers and room mates who doubt both his story and name. But when the truth comes out as to exactly who he is and how important he is everyone including the pessimistic Jock (Stanley Baxter - The Fast Lady) and the charming Jimmy Cooper (Leslie Phillips - Carry On Constable) must help him to escape, except Farrow plans to go out the same way he came in, through the gates, and refuses to go out via a tunnel.
One thing is for sure and that is "Very Important Person" is definitely a movie aimed at British audiences especially with an opening scene where we watch eminent scientist Sir Ernest Pease KBE FRS appearing on a TV show not that dissimilar to "This is your life". And it is this TV show which provides the route back to Ernest Pease ending up pretending to be Lt. Farrow in a German PoW camp following a reconnaissance mission which goes wrong. All of which is kind of amusing if you remember how "This is your life" worked and even more amusing watching James Robertson Justice as Ernest Pease looking rather miffed as various people he has no time for and no memory of reeled out to eulogise about him.
As already mentioned there is a similarity between "Very Important Person" and "The Great Escape" which came later and so we have the initial interrogation by the Germans when Farrow is caught, the introduction to the camp and the variety of Officers who take up positions like Escape Officer and rather amusingly an Entertainments Officer. And there are other familiar characters like Jock the tunnel man and the charming Jimmy Cooper as well as a clothes man and a couple of forgers. All of which means that there is definitely a familiarity to the set up but an amusing familiarity because everything is played for laughs.
It is when "Very Important Person" is aiming to be funny that it's at its best, with some splendid gags about prison life and escapes which maybe obvious such as the beds being uncomfortable because they are missing various planks but it works. And add to that the various unofficial escapes which often end up in a mess just add to the amusement. Even the daft gags such as various men including Leslie Phillips as Jimmy Cooper dressing up as women to be in the camp show ends up being funnier than maybe they should be.
But what makes "Very Important Person" so much fun comes from the characters and actors who bring them to comical life. James Robertson Justice maybe once more playing to type with the bolshie Lt. Farrow who bosses everyone around and doesn't suffer fools but watching him basically do things his way in the PoW camp is great fun. And to be honest even before we get to the PoW camp with a scene where he refuses to shave his whiskers off to go on an RAF flight is just as much fun.
But James Robertson Justice is not alone as Leslie Phillips brings laugh after laugh as the charming Jimmy Cooper and Jeremy Lloyd, John Le Mesurier plus Eric Sykes all bring just as many laughs and smiles in supporting roles. But it is Stanley Baxter who gets the most laughs partly from being the amusing Jock with his "we're all doomed" attitude but also because he plays German Officer Kommondant Stamfel and watching Baxter march around as a German is just as much fun especially when the storyline throws in an amusing twist.
What this all boils down to is that "Very Important Person" is what I would call a fun movie because it makes you smile more than laugh. But it is good and that is down mainly to the great writing, the humorous take on the typical PoW camp, escape storyline and the cast which is full of great British comedians. And it is James Robertson Justice, Leslie Phillips and Stanley Baxter who are the stars and whilst they maybe playing to type you really can't complain because they are so funny when doing it, bouncing off each other quite brilliantly.