Seventy years ago, The Rank Organisation wasn’t really interested in producing comedies. When Great Britain’s premier comedy studio, Ealing, turned down William Rose’s script for this road-racing romp, however, director Henry Cornelius took it to Rank, which allowed them to proceed on a dismally small budget. Shooting entirely on location and with no money for effects, Cornelius gave the studio its second highest grossing film of the year and a set of new stars.
Two friends (John Gregson and Kenneth More) get competitive when they take part in the London to Brighton Vintage Car Run. Despite frequent breakdowns for his 1904 Darracq, Gregson bets he can beat More’s 1905 Spyker on the return to London. Gregson’s wife (Dinah Sheridan) isn’t too pleased with the situation, while More’s madcap model girlfriend (Kay Kendall) is happy to be part of an adventure. As the competition heats up, the two men resort to dirty tricks to make it the finish line first.
All four actors had been working in movies for a while and got career boosts from this film’s success. Kendall had had the hardest time finding her niche. Rank executives had even told her she had no future in films, but with Genevieve she proved them wrong. Her skill at mugging and willingness to take pratfalls had critics calling her the new Carole Lombard, while her drunken jazz trumpet solo (dubbed by Kenny Baker) became one of the most iconic moments in British cinema. Sadly, like Lombard, she only enjoyed stardom briefly. She died of leukemia at the age of 32.
d. Henry Cornelius, 87 minutes, 35mm
Courtesy of MGM and Park Circus LLC. Print courtesy of the BFI National Archive