Consistently humiliated in his dealings with the caddish Raymond Delauney, Henry Palfrey repairs to the College of Lifemanship to ask Stephen Potter how he can get the better of his nemesis and prevent him from seducing his beloved April Smith.
Terry Thomas is one of the unsung greats of British cinema. An inveterate scene-stealer, he also had the happy knack of upping the game of his co-stars. Ian Carmichael particularly benefited from their unofficial double act. But while their exchanges counted among the comic highlights of Private's Progress, Lucky Jim, Brothers in Law, Happy Is the Bride and I'm All Right, Jack, they were only once afforded a film of their own. School for Scoundrels may suffer from its sketch-like structure, but it still has a couple of classic set-pieces and is one of the more underrated satires of the post-Ealing era.
The storyline was inspired by a series of bestselling parodic self-help manuals by Stephen Potter - Gamesmanship (1947), Lifemanship (1950) and One-Upmanship (1952). Although Patricia Moyes and producer Hal E. Chester were credited with the screenplay, it was predominantly written by Peter Ustinov and blacklisted HUAC exile, Frank Tarloff. It should have provided the perfect material for director Robert Hamer, who had triumphed with the similarly episodic Kind Hearts and Coronets. However, a lot of booze had flowed under Hamer's bridge since then and he was fired for lapsing back into alcoholism soon after shooting began (dying three years later without making another movie). Chester and the uncredited Cyril Frankel completed the project, but the lack of a single controlling hand significantly affected the outcome. Sim was somewhat miscast as the self-assured cynic whose Yeovil courses in the likes of `woomanship' and `partymanship' give Carmichael's typically flaky twit some backbone. Similarly Carmichael looks uncomfortable as he strives to lure Janette Scott into bed. However, he's at his most amusing while being duped by crooked secondhand car dealers Dunstan and Dudley Dorchester (superbly played by Dennis Price and Peter Jones) and soundly thrashed in a tennis match punctuated by Delauney's insouciantly insincere commiseration of `hard cheese' each time he loses a point.
Very hit and miss with some odd casting choices but entertaining for all that.