“What the Butler Saw” (1950)
God bless English servitude, for without domestic help, with whom would the eccentrics of the privileged ranks commiserate? “What the Butler Saw”- not to be confused with the Joe Orton play of the same name -is a comedy which derives its humor equally from both the standard formulas of cross cultural clashes and the introduction of disorder into the life of a figure whose role in life is defined by the observance of orderly propriety, in other words, an example of the long standing British tradition of simultaneously exalting and kicking the ankles of their titled classes.
Returning to his estate after an absence of ten years as the Governor of the Coconut Islands, a dotty Earl (Edward Rigby), accompanied by his stalwart butler Bembridge (Henry Mollison), begins to unload crates filled with hunting trophies (these Pacific islands somehow fully stocked with alligators, crocodiles and leopards and …is that a rhino?) when Bembridge discovers a stowaway: native Princess Lapis (Mercy Haystead), Hiding within one of the shipped boxes, the young royal is eager to continue what has obviously been a heavily romantic relationship with the not-quite-unflappable servant. Her presence creates a greater strain between the snooty class disdain of the Earl’s daughter, Lady Marly (Eleanor Hallam) and grandson Gerald (Michael Ward), who is prone to expressing exasperation over what both the Earl’s behavior and Lapis’ surprise appearance will have on his position at the Foreign Office. Attempting to contain a possible scandal becomes secondary when Lapis’ father, a King on one of the Islands, asserts declarations of a possible war sparked over his mistaken belief that his daughter has been abducted.
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