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Laughter in Paradise (1951), based on an original story and screenplay by Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies, was a typical zany British comedy of the post-war period that included films like The Lavender Hill Mob (1951). In it, a practical joker (played by Hugh Griffith) leaves 50,000 each to four of his relatives, provided they do the crazy stunts that he outlines in his will. A snobbish woman who treats her servants badly (played by Fay Compton) must work as a maid, a timid man (George Cole) has to rob the bank where he works using a toy pistol, a detective fiction writer (Alastair Sim) has to be arrested and held in jail for a month, and a playboy (Guy Middleton) must marry the first woman he meets and remain married to her. Shot in England for director Mario Zampi's TransOcean Films, it was released through Associated British Path and became the top-grossing film of the year in Britain. It was released in the United States through Stratford Pictures, and opened at the Trans-Lux on 60th Theatre in New York on November 11, 1951.
The film benefitted from an excellent script as well as starring the great Alastair Sim, best known to audiences as Ebenezer Scrooge in what many consider to be the definitive screen version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol in the 1951 film, Scrooge (aka A Christmas Carol). George Cole, who plays Herbert Russell (and best known to American audiences for playing the young Ebenezer Scrooge in Scrooge) was like a son to Alastair Sim. They had met in 1941 when Cole was appearing in the play A Cottage to Let as a sixteen year old. "We came in to London to play it as it was a big hit. Then the Blitz came and Alastair moved out of London and I was living with my mother at that time, in Tooting, and Alastair suggested that we move out of London, too. We found a place quite near them and, by then, all the theatres had closed down so we took the play round all the Army camps. I left my mother back in Oxfordshire and she couldn't stand the quiet so she moved back into London. To cut a long story short, the press had a thing about the Sims' adopting me and my contention is, no, I adopted them and they spent 50 years trying to get rid of me, which was rather difficult as I built my house next to theirs!"
Laughter in Paradise was one of Audrey Hepburn's first films. According to Warren G. Harris in his book, Audrey Hepburn, her reluctance to leave her current boyfriend, French cabaret performer Marcel le Bon, cost her an important part. "In later years, many influential people would claim to have "discovered" the doe-eyed gamine at Ciro's and to have touted her to some agent or talent scout of their acquaintance. But the true credit should go to Robert Lennard, casting director of Associated British Pictures Corporation, who was so captivated by Audrey at Ciro's [nightclub] that he recommended her to director Mario Zampi for the ingnue role in an upcoming comedy entitled Laughter in Paradise". Ian Woodward wrote in his biography of Hepburn that Zampi and screenwriter Michael Pertwee went to the nightclub to see Hepburn and another girl that Lennard recommended. "'They were both very pretty,' Pertwee later recalled, 'but Audrey was more than that. She took our breath away.' 'She made you feel so warm,' added Zampi, who was so enthusiastic about Audrey that he later went to see the show time and time again just to look at her. A meeting was arranged at the film's production office for the following afternoon.
"'Talking with her,' Pertwee added, 'only served to convince us both that she had to play the leading part of Lucille Grayson, even though she had absolutely no acting experience. So she was offered the role. To our chagrin, after a few days, she turned it down 'for personal reasons'." Hepburn did not want to leave le Bon and a show he was putting together. When the financing fell through and the couple broke up, Hepburn went rushing back to Zampi. "If the part's still available, and you're not too mad with me, I'd be thrilled to do it," she told Zampi. Zampi wasn't in the least mad with her and felt wretched for not having waited a few more days before casting the role. He gave her the bad news, and her sad doe-eyes screwed him up even more inside. "Look, Audrey, I very much want to use you in my picture,' Zampi then said. 'But the only role not yet cast is a bit part of a girl who sells cigarettes. Do you want to do it?' 'Yes,' Audrey said without hesitation. 'When do I start?' 'You start and finish on the same day,' the director informed her. 'The role requires just a day's work.'" Hepburn took the part, which paid her six pounds; but more importantly, it brought her an offer for a seven year contract with Associated British, which she turned down, preferring to remain at liberty to accept assignments elsewhere. It was a smart move: The film brought her to the attention of director William Wyler when he was casting Roman Holiday (1953).
Laughter in Paradise also helped Cole's career as Vincent Porter wrote in his book, British Cinema of the 1950s, "As Zampi particularly liked George Cole's portrayal of timid bank clerk Herbert Russell, he asked Davies and Pertwee to write their next script specifically for Cole." He would go on to become a star on British television and films. Recently, he was made an O.B.E. (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) for his services to drama.
Laughter in Paradise was remade in 1970 as Some Will, Some Won't starring Michael Hordern and Ronnie Corbett.
Producer: Mario Zampi
Director: Mario Zampi
Screenplay: Jack Davies, Michael Pertwee
Cinematography: William McLeod
Art Direction: Ivan King
Music: Stanley Black
Film Editing: Giulio Zampi
Cast: Alastair Sim (Deniston Russell), Fay Compton (Agnes Russell), Guy Middleton (Simon Russell), George Cole (Herbert Russell), Hugh Griffith (Henry Russell), Ernest Thesiger (Endicott), Beatrice Campbell (Lucille Grayson), Mackenzie Ward (Benson), A.E. Matthews (Sir Charles Robson), Joyce Grenfell (Elizabeth Robson), Eleanor Summerfield (Sheila Wilcott), John Laurie (Gordon Webb), Veronica Hurst (Joan Webb), Anthony Steel (Roger Godfrey).
by Lorraine LoBianco
A Class Apart Comes to BBC One interview with George Cole, March 13, 2007
British Cinema of the 1950s by Vincent Porter
The Internet Movie Database
Audrey Hepburn: A Biography by Warren G. Harris
Audrey Hepburn by Ian Woodward