Based on the Stephen Potter "One Upmanship" and "Lifemanship" books, a young man finds a very special school. It teaches him how to take advantage of people; how to seduce women, how to gain points in conversation, and how... more » to beat a better tennis player by driving him crazy. He begins to put the lessons into operation.« less
He who is not one up is one down! This movie, 5-up!
Daniel J. Hamlow | Narita, Japan | 03/19/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
""... the moment when Adam bit into that apple. At which moment, the first loser was born. Yes, the pattern was set. The world was divided not into male and female, that's a mere superficial division of minor importance. No, there is another division, another dichotomy more basic, more profound. At that fateful moment, the world was divided into winners and losers, top men and underdogs. In a word, the one up and the one down." --from Professor Potter's lecture at the College of Lifemanship, Yeovil.Or How To Win Without Actually Cheating. That's the subtitle of School For Scoundrels, this brilliant piece of British comedy from 1960, a title my father saw long ago and which I got him for a Christmas present, with a screenplay by Peter Ustinov no less adapted from three Stephen Potter novels.Poor Henry Palfrey! Clearly, he's constantly in a one-down position to the whole world. In a flashback, we see how despite being an executive in his late uncle's firm, he's dominated by his chief clerk Gloatbridge, who treats him like a non-entity. He literally bumps into the girl of his dreams, April Smith, a stunning but sweet, clean girl who's a brunette version of Betty Grable. However, a rascally, gap-toothed, smooth-talking acquaintance, Raymond Delawney, impresses April with his savoir-faire in wines and food, and even his snazzy Bellini sports car. Palfrey ends up getting a lemon and horribly losing a tennis match, where Delawney replies with a plummy "hard cheese!" every time he misses a point, causing him to lose face in front of April. He thus enrolls in Professor Potter's classes on lifemanship. What is lifemanship? It's "the science of being one up on your opponent at all times. It's the act of making him feel that somewhere, somehow, he's becoming less than you, less desirable, less worthy, less blessed." After graduating in classes of gamesmanship, onemanship, businessmanship, and that most important one, woo-manship, he gets back at those who caused him to lose face, and how! Next time I find somebody's who a life of the party, I'll use Potter's technique in deflating him/her. If Dingle, the gangly student in the class where that technique was demonstrated is familiar, that's Jeremy Lloyd, who would have a bit part jumping up and down in a club in A Hard Day's Night and the co-writer of Are You Being Served? in the 70's, and Allo Allo in the 80's.There are some misogynistic references on the "woo-manship" part, where Potter advises Henry to use a blase attitude to April in one scene. "Leave her alone and she'll come back home wagging her tail." Ouch, but good ones, Prof!Ian Carmichael (Henry) would later be known to American audiences watching PBS's Mystery as Lord Peter Wimsey in the Dorothy Sayers series. Terry-Thomas (Delawney) has another one of his comedic supporting roles, and it's incredible to see how he's suave when with poise, to a point where his frustration causes him to lose his temper. But hands down, veteran Alistair Sim as the impish Potter steals the show with his characteristic expressive eyes, toothy grin, and droll wit. Janette Scott shines as April, showing she could handle adult roles as well as child roles (James Stewart's super-intelligent daughter in No Highway In The Sky). Six years later, she'd have singer Mel Torme as her second of three husbands.Being someone constantly in a one-down position to the world, taking Potter's class would've been better than all those years I wasted in college. If I could do it all over, I'd take those classes and be one-up on everyone. However, Potter leaves the audience with a final warning: "once sincerity rears its ugly head, lifemanship is powerless." Me sincere? From now on, never! This movie is clearly one-up-up-up-up-up!"
The original and the best--believe it!
L. E. Cantrell | Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | 11/17/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This brilliant British comedy from 1960 recently suffered the cruel indignity of having its title applied to a crude, Americanized, lobotomized, piece of tripe. Put the remake out with the other trash; this is the only version for anyone who has risen above the rank of teen-aged slacker.
In the 1950s, America was periodically entranced by consecutive series of amusing and light-weight books of English social observations and "philosophy." There was, for example, C. Northcote Parkinson's "Parkinson's Law." Parkinson was a perfectly respectable naval historian who had noticed that as the number of ships in the Royal Navy had decreased after World War II, the number of people to support them, most particularly admirals, had increased. His "Law" was simply that work expanded to fill time and he provided many hilarious examples from contemporary British life to prove it. He followed that book up with a second one that was nearly as successful, called "In-laws and Outlaws." It was about, well, in-laws and outlaws. Someone else produced books on "U" and "Non-U" (upper class and not upper class--very, very British, that.) Perhaps the best-known of the bunch, however was Stephen Potter's "One-Upmanship" which created a new verb (or at least firmly re-established an older one) in the English language: to one-up.
Such was the popularity of the notions in the book, that very little time was lost before some bright spark wrapped a story around them and put them on the screen. The only surprise about the whole enterprise is how very, very skillfully it was done. Besides clever writers, the British film industry in those days boasted of a matchless stable of character actors, high comedians, low comics and farceurs. These were men and women who could put a hilarious polish on anything. In this case, we find Ian Carmichael, the sometime upper class twit and eternal everyman/nobody; the perpetually devious, always eccentric Alistair Sim and that outrageous bounder of bounders, scene-stealing, gap-toothed Terry-Thomas.
The story is a very simple one. A pleasantly likeable human worm, Carmichael, is getting the social stuffing kicked of him by a cad and bounder, Terry-Thomas (and just about everybody else in the world, too.) Realizing that he can't possibly prevail in a fair fight, the worm applies to the school run by Sim, who appears as Professor Potter, the philosopher-king of scoundrels. After a suitable course of instruction, the worm turns. The result, needless to say, generates real laughs. Even a bronze statue would have to smile at Terry-Thomas getting his comeuppance. ("Oh, hard cheese, old man.") And the manner in which an officious office manager is brought heel by Carmichael and Sim is an absolutely delicious little throw-away scene.
This is one of the true gems of the great period of British filmed comedy.
Five stars? Oh, I say, rather!"
This Movie is Definitely One-Up
R. Schultz | Chicago | 05/11/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a charming movie about an underdog's attempt to transform himself into a winner in the game of life. It is based on Stephen Potter's famous "One-Upsmanship" books. Some of Potter's subtle, hilarious methods for one-upping your rivals in life are shown here as Terry-Thomas and Ian Carmichael vie for the affections of Janette Scott and for supremecy on the playing field of life.
Terry-Thomas comes out with a dashing lead in gamesmanship in general, and in "woomanship" in particular. He plays the sophisticate bachelor with the advantage of a flashy car, a knowledge of wines, and the ability to maneuver Ian Carmichael into ridiculous loss on the tennis courts.
But then Ian Carmichael goes to the School of Lifesmanship to learn some tricks of his own. However the question becomes - is Carmichael really the sort of person who would want to win by gamesmanship?
I wish this movie had training sequels, illustrating further ploys that Potter suggests in his works. But then perhaps just this one movie is enough to entertain you and to alert you to further possibilities for winning the games of life. You can go on to read Potter's books if you want to get a full course in Gamesmanship. And then you can decide whether you want to be the sort of scoundrel to use these ploys. "
One of the very best British comedies ever made
D. R. Schryer | Poquoson, VA United States | 02/28/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In the 1950s I dated an English girl who introduced me to British comedies. To my pleasant surprise I found that the British have a wonderfully subtle sense of humor and I fell in love with a number of classic British comedies from that period. My favorite was School for Scoundrels in which Alistair Sim (fully equal to Alec Guiness as a comedic genius) is headmaster of a school which teachs "How to win without actually cheating." One of Sim's pupils is a desperate Ian Carmichael (who later went on to television stardom as Lord Peter Whimsey) whose every attempt to win the heart of Janette Scott has been thwarted by classic cad Terry-Thomas. Needless to say Sim's instructions allow Carmichael to vanquish his nemesis and win Scott's affections, though not quite as Sim intends. Please get this superb film and enjoy the various machinations which eventually bring about true love "without actually cheating.""
School for Comedy
C. T. Spence | California United States | 05/17/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Directed by Robert Hamer. With (a very young and handsome) Ian Carmichael, (a terribly nasty - and funny) Terry-Thomas, and (a manic) Alastair Sim. I've seen this movie so many times... from the time I was a child and didn't understand it all until now and understand it all too well... I've loved it every time. No -- no laugh 'til you cry. No embarrass your fellow human sight jokes. No punching and violence like the Three Stooges. No Obscenities. No Chases. No Belittling. Just humor. Soft, enjoyable fun. A story about an underdog who wins by winning. Yes, a happy ending! And (I'm sorry) it may even make you think (or maybe give you a few pointers on Lifemanship)!"