LAUGHTER IN PARADISE (Mario Zampi, 1951)

What a practical joker Henry Russell was! (He died laughing after setting his nurse’s newspaper on fire as she read it.) He leaves £50,000 to each of four relatives, stipulating a convoluted though educative task that tests the person’s greed to the limit. All but one of them learns there is more to life than money—which is just as well, for Russell’s lawyer dispenses one final joke on his behalf: there is no money!
     Alastair Sim gives the best performance. Deniston Russell writes pulp fiction under a trio of pennames. His deceased relation has devised a suitable test for him. Denis must commit a crime, get caught, and spend a month in jail for it. Poor Denis! This guy has a devil of a time getting arrested! One shoplifting expedition ends in his being pickpocketed, removing the evidence of his own crime! Everything Sim accounts for the film’s funniest moments—as is usually the case.
     Consistently amusing, occasionally hilarious, Mario Zampi’s British comedy makes the most of Jack Davies and Michael Pertwee’s lovely script. Indeed, Zampi has made a delightful film from start to finish.
     The visual high point, though, comes almost at the close. The Russells, their tests completed, are gathered around the table with Henry’s lawyer at the head of the table, two Russells to his right, two to his left. Visible on the wall behind the lawyer is Henry’s likeness, taking in the scene of his final practical joke. The lawyer is laughing so hard he can barely get out the announcement that Henry died “flat broke.” The camera pans, connecting the surviving Russells for the first time, making of them at last a family. Each of three of the Russells is laughing hard at the news; the fourth, who has been tricked into marrying his servant’s niece, is scowling. Without a cut, the camera follows Simon Russell to the window, where he looks outside. Now there is a cut—to his bride, who is anticipating the £50,000 with a bottle of champagne. Another cut returns us to Simon, who, anticipating the surprise he has for his wife, rejoins his relations. Now Simon also is laughing.

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