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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Battle of the Sexes (Blu-ray)
The Battle of the Sexes (Blu-ray)
Kino // Unrated // November 1, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted November 27, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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Britain's Ealing Studios all but defined the term "whimsy" in nearly two dozen gentle (if sometimes dark and bitingly satirical) comedies made over ten years beginning in 1947. These movies, famously including such treasures as King Hearts and Coronets (1949), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The Man in the White Suit (1951), The Titfield Thunderbolt, The Maggie (1954), and The Ladykillers (1955), gradually became popular in America, typically in small, art house-type venues.

Ealing Studios was sold to the BBC, which brought about an untimely end to official Ealing comedies, but such was their popularity that Ealing-style British comedies continued to be made over the next six or seven years, many of them featuring and later starring Peter Sellers, including The Smallest Show on Earth (1957), Carlton-Browne of the F.O. (1959), The Mouse That Roared (1959), I'm All Right Jack (1959) - and The Battle of the Sexes (1959).

The makers of The Battle of the Sexes seem to have been particularly conscious of both the Ealing influence and of the growing interest toward these movies in America. Though not an Ealing comedy per se, it has all its earmarks, while at the same time gently sending up both American impudence and stereotypical, intractable British (though specifically Scottish here) traditions and values.


The mostly elderly employees of an Edinburgh Scottish Tweed weaving company face an uncertain future when its longtime owner, Old Macpherson (ancient Ernest Thesiger in a delightful vignette) draws his last breath. His inexperienced, English-boarding school-raised son, Robert (Robert Morley, his Old Wellingtonian accent thus explained) will soon assume power.

En route, Robert becomes infatuated with a pushy American efficiency expert, Angela Barrows (Constance Cummings), who all but barges her way into the quaint, almost Dickensian company, turning Old Macpherson's stately office into a Gray Flannel Suit nightmare, wiring it with an elaborate intercom system, and vowing to replace the old workers and the precious wool itself with synthetic fiber.

To the rescue comes timid accountant and teetotaler Mr. Martin (Peter Sellers), who despite his milquetoast manner rallies to unimagined heights to save his beloved workplace.

The film is a loose adaptation of James Thurber's famous short story "The Catbird Seat" (a baseball reference, acknowledged in the movie's dialogue), and adapted by its producer, Russia-born Monja Danischewsky. He was an Ealing veteran, starting out in its publicity department in the late 1930s before branching out into writing and producing, including Rockets Galore! (1957), the largely forgotten sequel to Whiskey Galore! (1949). He later wrote the script to Jules Dassin's celebrated Topkapi (1964).

Peter Sellers was just beginning to segue from big supporting parts to leading roles; earlier that year he headlined The Mouse That Roared (in which he was top-billed) and I'm All Right Jack (billed third), both huge hits. In The Battle of the Sexes he's a marvel of subtlety and restraint, effectively playing a man in his late fifties while in his mid-thirties. (Robert Morley, by contrast, was 51, but playing a character presumably at least a decade younger.) With minimal makeup and eyeglasses, Sellers's voice and mannerisms create an entirely believable man of late-middle age, one utterly bereft of any vice until circumstances compel him to indulge for the greater good.

Few remember Seattle-born Constance Cummings, but her career was nothing short of remarkable, beginning on the stage in 1928, and continuing with pre-Code talkie Hollywood films starring Harold Lloyd (Movie Crazy) and directed by Howard Hawks (The Criminal Code) and Frank Capra (American Madness).

She married British playwright Benn Levy and moved to England, where she continued to act on the stage, including the RNT's production of Long Day's Journey into Night opposite Laurence Olivier, and in a smattering of movies including David Lean's Blithe Spirit, and continued acting well into the 1980s before her death at 95 in 2005.

The Battle of the Sexes amusingly captures American pushiness and its then-obsession for utilitarian modernization, technology, and efficiency, as well as its fondness for "quaint" British traditions. The shop in the film, played by the Justerini & Brooks (J&B) spirits company in exterior shots, probably seemed old-fashioned to Brits even in 1959, though such establishments continue to thrive in Britain, keeping up appearances if only for American tourists. The picture seems to have been a major influence on Terry Gilliam, whose "The Crimson Permanent Assurance" prologue to Monty Python's Meaning of Life (1983) could almost be considered a remake, and draws upon many of these same British stereotypes.

Other amusing touches include an original film-within-the-film that Sellers's character watches, a Sherlock Holmes-type mystery featuring Michael Goodliffe as the Holmesian detective, and William Mervyn as his companion. Blacklisted actor (and later director) Sam Wanamaker provides droll narration and, in an early scene set in New York, Donald Pleasance has a small role as "Irwin Hoffman," a shrewish victim of Cummings's man-eating. He affects a profoundly bad American accent that must be heard to be believed.

Video & Audio

In crisp black-and-white and presented in its correct 1.66:1 widescreen, The Battle of the Sexes looks great on Blu-ray, sourced from original British elements, including its original British Board of Film Censors seal. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono is robust and lively, however. The disc is Region A encoded. No Extra Features.

Parting Thoughts

Delightful, The Battle of the Sexes is Highly Recommended.






Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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