This used to be a TV perennial and is now out on DVD, though elements of its humour – all built around the once-hugely-accepted practice of corporal punishment in schools – now seem horribly, and perhaps illegally perverse.
Even in 1960, there must have been a sense of changing attitudes – though the cane was in use in my school until the mid-70s – since, for all the talk of floggings, the only person who gets his bottom whipped is the spinsterish sidekick (Arthur Howard) of ‘Professor Jimmy Edwards’ (Jimmy Edwards) and all the sequences setting up the thwacking of schoolboys are derailed. In one moment that now seems to have another meaning, young Wendover (John Mitchell) is bending over to take his punishment when his father, a bishop (Reginald Beckwith), pops into the office and Edwards says he’s surprised the clergyman doesn’t recognise his own son bending over. It even features an underage bare bottom as a lad’s pajamas fall down. I’ve always thought there was an odd connection with If …. in that both films end with outright war between the masters and pupils at a boys’ public school, but looking at it again I find it’s transparently obviously an attempt to do a St Trinian’s film with boys even if it was spinoff from Edwards’ TV show Whack-O (1956-72!) and perhaps in the line of descent from Will Hay’s schoolmaster comedies. A problem is that Edwards,who tries to show a little benevolent sparkle when not snarling or chewing his moustache in fury, works too hard to be not very funny, and he’s pretty much the whole show. The premise is that Chiselbury School is failing so Edwards pretends that a new pupil is an Arab prince, only for the real prince to be admitted.
The fake sheik (Melvyn Hayes), son of a bookmaker, is shown to be a bad lot because he buys friends and is prepared to let Wendover and pals take a beating for his own crimes, which triggers an armed uprising involving fireworks and water pistols (a much funnier title, The Cane Mutiny, is written on a blackboard). There are a lot of jokes fetishising caning, including Edwards wielding an extra-long rod capable of whacking five bottoms at a time and the usual stuff about books and plates stuffed down trousers to reduce the bruising. Now, that stuff just seems weird. We get turns from Martita Hunt, Raymond Huntley, Sydney Tafler (playing the Sid James role from the St Trinian’s films), pin-up Vanda (Vanda Hudson) in a non-role which consists mostly of walking away being ogled, young Richard Briers, George Pastell (as a communist spy) and Richard Shaw (as a thug), but none are on great form. Mitchell, playing Edwards’ young nemesis, is so hideously smug and unappealing that he unbalances the whole film – it’s hard not to want to see the little prig beaten to a pulp, and you rather hope bad things happened to him after the movie (to my astonishment, I looked him up and he went from being a child actor to drumming for The Jimi Hendrix Experience).
It was scripted by Michael Pertwee, with additional dialogue (ie: jokes) by Frank Muir and Denis Norden – it’s safe to say the latter pair wrote the sign-off gag where half of the famous Edwards moustache is blown off and he cries that he’s ‘semi-detached’. Directed by Mario Zampi.