The Captain’s Paradise Review

Anthony Nield has reviewed Optimum’s Region 2 release of The Captain’s Paradise. A breezily engaging British comedy starring Alec Guinness, the film sorely lacks the bite of Ealing’s very best comedies and, indeed, any extras.

Anthony Kimmins is a director who has never entered the pantheon of British greats and is unlikely to ever do so. It’s not that he’s an especially poor filmmaker, just one who’s lacking in distinction and has never produced anything that goes beyond the mere proficient. The Captain’s Paradise is a case in point, a film which is notable for its Ealing-isms, yet is sorely lacking the bite of the studio’s very best.

As with Kind Hearts and Coronets, the film stars Alec Guinness and is told in flashback from around the time of an execution. Guinness is the man to be shot and we slowly learn that the reasons for such a plight relate to his bigamous activities. He’s the captain of a ship which regularly travels from Tangiers to Gibraltar and then back again. Nothing strange here expect that in each port lives a different wife: Tangiers houses Yvonne De Carlo, whilst Gibraltar plays home to Celia Johnson. Understandably, it is his attempts to keep the two lives separate that leads to some gently farcical goings-on and, of course, his downfall.

Though this material could easily be mined for its blackly humorous qualities, Kimmins keeps The Captain’s Paradise light and breezy. Indeed, the films lack any of the satirical edge found in the best Ealing comedies, a situation best exemplified by the (type)casting of the two female leads. De Carlo plays the red-blooded woman who stays up late and can’t cook; Johnson the reserved Brit who drinks sherry and is in bed by 10. They’re both characterisations of the most basic manner, ones that play on their respective actresses personas, yet never make the effort to comment on them rather the filmmakers simply accept them. Of course, a certain chauvinism is integral to Guinness’ character, but the filmmakers play along too: just witness De Carlo’s first scene, which sees her fresh from the shower, and then Johnson’s, which sees here fresh from the kitchen.

There’s a similar situation throughout as various ideas just happen on-screen without being fully developed or exploited. One nicely comic moment sees Guinness getting Johnson pregnant solely so that she won’t have the time visit him on the other shore and therefore discover the other woman. Yet the dark undertones which should be overtly apparent are washed away by Kimmin’s perpetual lightness. Had Alexander Mackendrick or Robert Hamer in his prime been offered the material then the true potential which lies in The Captain’s Paradise would surely have been realised.

Instead we are left with a work that proves breezily engaging but nothing more. Just as Guinness can play this kind of role in his sleep, so to could the British film industry pump them out. And just as Guinness is never tested by the material, nor too are the audience.

The Disc

Another of Optimum’s bare bones releases of old movies, The Captain’s Paradise fares well in terms of presentation. A good print has been selected, one that is often crisp (the opening credits are quite impressive). However, some scenes appear worse than others prompting the occasional case of highly visible artefacting, though these instances are of the minority. The soundtrack, preserving the original mono recording, fares better have less to contend with and remains clear throughout.

Anthony Nield

Updated: Apr 15, 2005

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