MONTHLY FILM BULLETIN
THE BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE
Volume 24, No.286, November 1957, page 135
LUCKY JIM (1957)
Jim Dixon, junior history lecturer at a provincial university, is bored with the frustrations of his job and affronted by the atmosphere of sham culture with which Professor Welch, head of the history department, smugly surrounds himself. Visiting Welch's house for the weekend, Jim quarrels with his son Bertrand, an arrogant pseudo-intellectual; falls in love with Christine, Bertrand's fiancée; escapes with difficulty from Margaret Peel, a neurotic and clinging colleague; and further damages his relations with the Welches by burning large holes in his bedclothes with a cigarette end. Further moderately disastrous incidents follow, including the wrecking of a ceremonial university occasion and culminating in Jim's delivery of a public lecture for which he is instructed to base his text on Welch's book Merrie England. Preparing for the ordeal on whisky and tranquillisers, Jim drunkenly attempts to indicate his real contempt for this theme to the audience, then collapses on the platform. His resignation is immediately demanded. Jim is rescued, however, by Christine's industrialist uncle, who offers him a job in London; and he finally wins Christine herself from Bertrand.
Kingsley Amis's novel was a tough, funny and irascible piece of contemporary social comedy. The Boulting brothers' screen version broadens the comedy into farce, introduces a few elements of its own (a final slapstick car chase, a solemn boxer dog), and turns the whole thing into an amiable joke in the line of Private's Progress and Brothers in Law. The characters have lost contact with Redbrick reality (compare, for instance, Jim's relationship with Margaret Peel in the novel and film) and in the process the book's social satire has been jettisoned. Lucky Jim has become broader, milder and softer; from the screen version, with its thoroughly traditional humours, one would never suspect that the novel had become the symbol of a new movement in English fiction.
There are moments during the disastrous weekend at the Welches and the alcoholic defiance of the Merrie England lecture which come within striking distance of the mood of the original. Too often, though, potentially comic scenes are spoilt by faulty timing, a determination to hammer home the joke and play for an easy laugh. This also affects the performances. As Jim Dixon, Ian Carmichael remains the amiable, likeable light comedian of the other Boulting comedies; funny enough in his own right, he scarcely suggests Amis's hero. Terry-Thomas makes heavy weather of the fatuous Bertrand, a thorough-going piece of caricature; and Sharon Acker is a guileless and ingenuous heroine.
The Monthly Film Bulletin was published by the British Film Institute between 1934 and 1991. Initially aimed at distributors and exhibitors as well as filmgoers, it carried reviews and details of all UK film releases. In 1991, the Bulletin was absorbed by Sight and Sound magazine.