The Goose Steps Out

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Goose Steps Out
"The verbal humour stands test of time a lot better than you might expect."

Restored and released to mark its 75th anniversary, this Goose has scrubbed up well and the verbal humour stands test of time a lot better than you might expect. By 1942, when this film was released, comic actor Will Hay was at the height of his powers, having made big box office with the likes of Oh, Mr Porter!

Here, he plays a language teacher who, having been mistaken for his Nazi doppelganger Muller is co-opted by the British Government to go to Germany posing as Muller, in order to spy on a weapon Hitler is trying to develop. He proves as hapless as ever at the task but bumbles his way through, picking up a handful of unlikely allies along the way.

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There's no lack of talent on display, from The Captive Heart's Basil Dearden in the director's chair (Hay is credited as co-director but debate surrounds how much he actually did), who brings some derring-do to off-set the comedy, to the writing pairing of Angus MacPhail and John Dighton, who would go on to script the likes of Whisky Galore! and Kind Hearts And Coronets. The cast is also burgeoning with up-and-coming names, including a fresh-faced Charles Hawtrey and an impossibly young Peter Ustinov in one of his earliest roles.

The film is rather more shrill than you might expect from Hay, at least initially, but it settles down considerably once his mission begins. The slapstick is limited, with a particular reliance on the star nobbling the enemy with a sand-filled sock, but it is, as so often with Hay, the scripting where the joy lies. Two scenes showcase his timing at its finest - one in which he tries to teach a school of spies how to pronounce British place names, leading to Slough rhyming with tough and some witty back and forth with Hawtrey and a second in which he puns his away around the British Isles, while instructing a group of Germans in how best to attack Blighty. There are also some beautifully worked in one-liners, such as an arrested German being carted off by the Gestapo for listening to the BBC, staunchly protesting he was "only listening to children's hour" and the, surely pretty risque at the time inclusion of the entire class of students flicking V signs at Hitler's portrait.

The story is fairly threadbare and some of the comedy business - particularly during a plane journey that takes up the film's last 15 minutes or so - feels laboured today, but the jokes have sailed through the decades almost unscathed. The pun shines when Hay makes it.

Reviewed on: 18 May 2017
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The Goose Steps Out packshot
A teacher agrees to spy in Germany after it turns out his is the doppelganger of a Nazi.

Director: Basil Dearden, Will Hay

Writer: Bernard Miles, Reg Groves, Angus MacPhail, John Dighton

Starring: Will Hay, Charles Hawtrey, Peter Croft, Barry Morse, Peter Ustinov, Anne Firth, Frank Pettingell, Leslie Harcourt, Julien Mitchell, Jeremy Hawk, Raymond Lovell, Aubrey Mallalieu, John Williams, Lawrence O'Madden, John Boxer

Year: 1942

Runtime: 79 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: UK

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