(director/writer: Peter Ustinov; screenwriter: based on the novel Vice Versa: A Lesson to Fathers by F. Anstey; cinematographer: Jack Hildyard; editor: John D. Guthridge; music: Antony Hopkins; cast: Roger Livesey (Paul Bultitude), Kay Walsh (Florence “Fanny” Verlane), Petula Clark (Dulcie Grimstone), David Hutcheson (Marmaduke Paradine), Anthony Newley (Dick Bultitude), James Robertson Justice (Dr. Grimstone), Patricia Raine (Alice), Joan Young (Mrs. Grimstone), Ernest Jay (Boaler, butler); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: George H. Brown/Peter Ustinov; MGM; 1948-UK)

“At times becomes more absurd than amusing.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Peter Ustinov (“Romanoff and Juliet”/”Lady L”/”Hammersmith Is Out”) directed this playful body switching farce when he was 26. This was Ustinov’s second film as director; the first was School for Secrets (1946). The uneven comedy has some sparkling moments of fantasy, but goes on for too long and at times becomes more absurd than amusing. It’s based on the novel Vice Versa: A Lesson to Fathers by F. Anstey, who coincidentally was also 26 when he published the book in 1882. The book was put to film first in 1916 as a silent. Penny Marshall’s Big, a popular but inferior version of Vice Versa, used the same body switching theme some 40 years later.

Stuffy, pompous and wealthy Victorian stockbroker Paul Bultitude (Roger Livesey), in 1890, is sending his cheeky son Dick (Anthony Newley, it was the first film role for the 14-year-old) back to the boarding school he detests after the recess. While they are saying their goodbyes, Paul says he wishes he was a lad again and that wish is granted by the stolen magical jewel, a gray/green eye stone worshiped by a cult group called the Laughing Hyenas in India. It’s a gift Paul just reluctantly received from his late wife’s good-for-nothing thieving brother, Marmaduke Paradine. Dick then decides to ask for a wish to be his father, and that wish is also granted. The two change bodies but keep their same views and personalities; as expected, chaos rules the day at both places.

Dr. Grimstone (James Robertson Justice) plays the cruel headmaster, while his daughter Dulcie, the love interest of Dick, is played by Petula Clark (started acting at 11, and would become a pop singing idol in the 1960s). Dick’s schoolmates react as only children can when they find ‘Dick’ has returned from the holidays as a squealer and goody-two-shoes. While in London, ‘Paul’ has the servants baffled as he turns childish, gives children’s parties, flirts with the maid Alice, defers the advances from his father’s unethical lady friend Mrs Verlayne, and goes into the car factory business with his recreant Uncle Marmaduke. Things end well when they are able in the end to get the stolen temple jewel to change things back to normal and reflect how the switcheroo was a really worthwhile eye-opening life changing experience.

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