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The Wrong Box (1966)


A 60s movie with a cast including Michael Caine, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Nanette Newman, John Mills, Ralph Richardson, Peter Sellers and Tony Hancock? Sounds too good to be true? Well it is true - and strangely, The Wrong Box remains something of an unknown quantity.

Despite the era, this isn't a swinging sixties movie - it's actually a Victorian farce. But as the style of the 60s owed much to a Victorian revival, that doesn't take too much effort. The plot however is something that might require a few spare brain cells.

A tontine (think ever-growing insurance policy) is put aside for the survivor of a dozen schoolchildren. Over the years, the group dwindles with a succession of bizarre deaths, leaving two brothers - Masterman Finsbury (John Mills) or Joseph Finsbury (Ralph Richardson). Masterman is keen on the cash himself, using his son (Micheal Finsbury - played by Caine) to relay a message of his imminent death. But also desperate for the money are Joseph's adopted sons - Morris and John (played by Cook and Moore).

And that's where the fun begins, which involves a couple of false deaths, the accidental death of a serial killer, a fake death (signed off by mad doctor Pratt - Peter Sellers), a love story (Caine/Newman) and an investigation into the whole thing by the local detective (Tony Hancock). Oh yes - you can throw in the Salvation Army, a mad butler and a funeral too.

It's an enjoyable - if a little confusing - period romp. But what really carries the movie is some of the performances, especially from Sellers, Cooke and Moore. Peter Cook dominates the movie  (with the possible exception of his scenes with Sellers), which is no mean feat considering the cast. But it's not all sweetness and light.

For a start it's slightly too long, while the plot manages to lose itself once or twice. And to be honest, there's something of the 'too many cooks' at work, with some of the bigger names seriously lacking screen time. Yet despite that, this really is a hidden gem. Until a recent TV showing, I'd never encountered it and it isn't available on DVD. But if you see an old VHS copy kicking around, you really should grab it. Firstly, because it might make a few quid on eBay and secondly, because this is a great way to kill 100 minutes on a Sunday afternoon.


Jakob Beard

Yes, I grabbed a copy of an old VHS a few weeks ago. Lucky to find it, as it has never been released on DVD. And I'm really glad I found the VHS, because I really enjoy the film. I agree with your comments, mostly the one of the "too many cooks", but it's certainly hilarious and a rare lost gem. Cheers!

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