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A tontine is established for twenty boys in 1818 England, a tontine being a kind of insurance wager in which money is invested by each participant, to grow with interest, with the last survivor to get the substantial payout. We watch the group dwindle until only two elderly brothers are left in 1882. One brother is watched by his nephews who will keep him alive at all costs. The other lives in ill health and poverty as the only support of his perpetually confused grandson. Statues and bodies are switched, in the wrong boxes, until everyone is sure that one (or both) of the brothers has died. Now if they can only make it seem as if the other brother died first, over a hundred thousand pounds sterling (in Victorian England, when a pound was a pound) will be theirs.Written by
John Vogel <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Joseph Finsbury (Sir Ralph Richardson) is constantly sneaking cigarettes. The book and movie setting is 1889 in Victorian England. The cigarette machine was just invented in 1881 in America. So, already, manufactured cigarettes were common in England. See more »
Just before the train crash you can see the smoke and steam going back into the engines, signifying the trains were in reverse and the film played backwards. See more »
Now, you're to go to Joseph and tell him I want to see him.
Yes sir. But won't that upset you sir?
Upset me? Of course it'll upset me. But nothing will upset me more than not winning the tontine and leaving you with a mountain of debts and a doubtful future as an idiot in a profession of rogues and charlatans.
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Little known in the United States, THE WRONG BOX is an absolute must-see for serious students of comedy. The plot revolves around a tontine, a lottery established by the well-heeled fathers of a class of English schoolboys, the proceeds to be awarded after many years to the last surviving member of the class. The story picks up at the point where only two of the classmates are still alive: the brothers Masterman and Joseph Finsbury, who rather detest one another. The plot is full of Finsburys, all of whom want one or the other to die first so they can get a piece of the loot.
Bryan Forbes's direction is first rate, visually exquisite, and even though the convoluted plot is a bit slow to get started, nicely paced. Forbes has a notable cast of experienced actors, and he gives them free reign to perform comedy as only the British can do. The climax chase comes to a head at exactly the right time and is hilarious, the more so because it is marvelously unforced. The actors involved give the impression they're delighted to be in the film, as they should be.
THE WRONG BOX is one of Michael Caine's earlier films and he performs creditably, and Peter Sellers shines in an excellent bit part. Nevertheless, my hat goes off to three other actors who give the performance of their careers: Ralph Richardson, as the quintessential pedant Joseph Finsbury, the world's most boring narcissist; Peter Cook, as Joseph's incessantly scheming nephew who wants to see his uncle die a few seconds after Masterman croaks; and most especially, Wilfrid Lawson as the wondrously torpid Peacock, Masterman's dignified but disheveled butler whose peculiar grunts and malapropisms remain fresh with every viewing of the film. I would put Lawson's performance on a par with Humphrey Bogart's in THE CAINE MUTINY or Fred MacMurray's in DOUBLE INDEMNITY -- it is truly that good.
THE WRONG BOX ranks on a par with THE LIFE OF BRIAN as one of the finest British comedies ever. Enjoy it!
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