I'm All Right Jack
The Peter Sellers Collection
In the 1950s, festering classism and industrial stagnation were so endemic in England that movies attacking the resulting paralysis became something of a subgenre. The best of them, the Boulting brothers' acerbic satire I'm All Right Jack (1959), is a merciless and hilarious dagger thrown at both Labor and Management, two opposing factions each rotten with exclusive self-interest.
Earnest but clueless Oxford naif Stanley Windrush (Ian Carmichael) is offered a working-class job at his uncle's armaments factory, Missiles Ltd. But it's a set-up. This gormless upper-class Candide is the patsy in an Arab arms contract scheme manipulated by the uncle (Dennis Price) and another factory owner (Richard Attenborough) to line their pockets. All they need is a workers' strike caused by giving a forklift to this suit-and-tie stooge. The plan works all too well. After Stanley upsets everyone's entrenched and delicate balance by being wantonly efficient, he gets pummeled at the center of a clash between the personnel manager (Terry-Thomas) and the shop steward, Fred Kite (Peter Sellers). Events explode into a nationwide strike, and Stanley becomes a cause célèbre. Television cameras circle their prey until, live on the national telly, twitty Windrush decides that he's mad as hell and not taking it anymore.
I'm All Right Jack was conceived and directed to be a soot-black satire of postwar industrial practices. The industry bosses are an inbred, elitist gentlemen's club with no concerns toward production efficiency or the good of the commonwealth. The trade unionists are indolent toughs besotted by Kite's pat sloganeering to do as little work for as much pay and privileges as possible. Both paranoid, do-nothing factions have a comfortable understanding until Stanley innocently mucks up the works.
Within this typically sturdy British cast, Sellers shines as Kite, the Marxist martinet who speaks in the rote dialectics of a streetcorner pamphleteer ("Incompetence is not a cause for dismissal; that's victimization!") yet holds upper-class intelligentsia pretensions. In his dour short-back-and-sides performance, Sellers takes this petty proletarian dictator (complete with Hitler mustache) and makes him into a pathetic, sympathetic family man whose tiny, tidy world unravels at the factory and at home. "Brother Kite" emerges so dimensionally from this cynical comedy peopled by types, Sellers won a British Academy Award (beating Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, and Peter Finch) and the success made him an international star. The film also took Best British Screenplay.
I'm All Right Jack is a sequel to an Army comedy, Private's Progress, and is firmly embedded in its time and place and social milieu. (Its title comes from an English army solipsistic catchphrase, "Screw you, I'm all right, Jack.") Modern American viewers may be a bit disadvanataged when it comes to the underscored depictions of period welfare state politics and English class distinctions from attitudes to accents. But like The Man in the White Suit, which bites into similar themes, the film's teeth are still sharp, its humor silly, droll, or vulgar is ageless, and the way Sellers inhabits Kite is remarkable.
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Part of the "Peter Sellers Collection," Anchor Bay presents I'm All Right Jack in a clean, sharp black-and-white print (1.66:1 anamorphic) that looks splendid. The DD 2.0 monaural audio is also quite fine. Extras are the original trailer plus a thorough Sellers biography/filmography. Keep-case.