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Cartoonist Ronald Searle's schoolgirls are probably the most evil creatures to appear in English letters since Shakespeare's lago. Not content to be confined to the pages of Punch, the horrible little monsters have now spread like a plague all over a British motion picture. If they have lost some of their sting in the transition, the girls are still as grotesquely humorous as they every were.
For the uninitiated, a few words of introduction might be necessary. The Bells of St. Trinian's are the inmates of an English girl's school rather hesitantly dominated by Millicent Fritton, a Mistress at least as corrupt as her charges. As she explains to some newcomers to her school, most academies exist to prepare girls to go out into the world. But it is the world which has to be prepared for St. Trinian's. In the encounter that follows, the world, but not the audience, comes off second best.
Much of the credit for the triumph must be given to actor Alastair Sim, who plays the double role of the Head-mistress and her gambler brother. Sim is better in the feminine half of his part, for which he assumes a towering wig, a hoarse whisper, and just the right mixture of cowardice and heroism. Joyce Grenfell is almost as funny in her role of a policewoman who looks very much like a horse but walks like an ape. As for the dozen or so of the Bells themselves, they are less expert, but on the whole quite monstrous enough. All of these characters are, of course, caricatures--and that is only appropriate.
Unfortunately, the screenplay by Frank Launder, Sidney Gilliat, and Val Valentine is less successful than the actors. It does not matter very much that the plot, which centers loosely around the theft of a racehorse, is hopelessly confused. Many of the comic situations, however, are strained and too farcical to be genuinely funny, and the punch-lines of some of the jokes are left lying around so long that they finally drop out altogether. As a result, the film lacks much of the spontaneity of the Searle originals.
But all these objections are really little more than quibbles. Alastair Sim easily cancels them out, as when he intones with sorrow dripping from his voice after an explosion in the chemistry lab, "Poor little Bessie, I warned her to be more careful with the nitroglycerine." Nothing, not even mediocre sound recording, can spoil the effect of that.
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