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School For Scoundrels (1960)
Warning: The full synopsis contains "spoilers" which describe key plot points. If you don't want to know the plot and outcome of this film then please don't read any further.

Winners and Losers

Publicity Still for the filmThe plot of the film is in three acts. Firstly the caddish Delauney outmaneouvres Palfrey in love, tennis and life in general. In the second act Palfrey attends the School of Lifemanship with the unusual Professor Potter. In the third and final act Palfrey returns to his life a changed man and revisits the scenes of his previous failures. All three acts play out very well for different reasons. The gentle comedy of the time runs throughout this very English film.

Alastair Sim as Stephen Potter

The film begins with Henry Palfrey disembarking from the train at Yeovil Station. There is a "You are now in the Lifemanship Country" sign in the background. He follows signposts to The School of Lifemanship run by Stephen Potter (author of the Lifemanship books and Head of the fictional school) played by Alastair Sim. He arrives late for his appointment with Potter but manages to catch Potter's start of term opening address to the new batch of Lifemanship recruits. Potter states that from when Eve first tempted Adam to eat the forbidden fruit the first loser was born and goes on to state exactly what lifemanship is (see Memorable Quotes 1 ).

The Woman

Green For Danger Poster

When Palfrey finally has his appointment with Potter there is a delightful verbal exchange as Potter immediately gets one-up on Palfrey regarding first-name familiarity. Palfrey declares quite simply that he is a "failure" and is looking for help. Potter discerns that a woman has sparked this crisis and asks Palfrey to relate the story from the beginning. In a series of flashbacks Palfrey tells his tale of woe. He first literally bumps in to April Smith (played by the beautiful Janette Scott) as she is disembarking from a bus; he knocks all of the parcels out of her hand but with a genuine innocent charm manages to placate her and carry her parcels home.

Watching Professor Potter introduce Henry Palfrey to one-upmanship during their first meeting is to watch one of the cleverest examples of Sim's timing and expression you'd ever hope to see.

Taking, Or Being Taken?

Janette Scott as April Smith

As Palfrey arrives at work following his meeting with the delightful April Smith, we see his subordinates have no respect for him and that the office is effectively run by Gloatbridge, his office manager. He asks Gloatbridge to book a table for two at the Camelia Room. It would seem that Gloatbridge makes the decisions whilst Palfrey simply signs the relevant papers (following a previous - undisclosed - disastrous business mistake). Palfrey then receives a telephone call from his friend Douglas informing him that he is out of the team for the upcoming tennis match.

The Camelia Room
Palfrey and Delauney at the Camelia Room

Palfrey and April arrive at the Camelia Room for their date. It is no surprise when we discover that Gloatbridge has failed to book the table and Palfrey goes through a series of embarrassing exchanges with the wonderfully supercilious John Le Mesurier as Head Waiter in an attempt to obtain a table. It is only when Raymond Delauney arrives do they have any success. He is an old tennis friend of Palfreys with a huge air of confidence and invites them to his table as his guests. Delauney is immediately attracted to April and proceeds to try to impress her with his knowledge of wine and gastronomy. Delauney plays a number of one-upmanship tricks on Palfrey and ends up challenging him to a tennis match with the obvious intention of belittling him in front of April.

Following the meal outside the Camelia Rooms Delauney ensures that he impresses April with his Belini 3.6 sport scar. He offers a lift but as it is only a two seater he cannot take both of them. Palfrey, having spent all his money on their (and Delauney's) dinner insists that he and April should walk on such a delightful evening. However, the insistent Delauney then says he will pick April up the following morning to take her to the club for the tennis match with Palfrey.

The Winsome Welshmen

The following morning we see Palfrey strolling past the "Winsome Welshmen" garage and, inspired by Delauney's Belini, his eye is attracted to the Swiftmobile inside. Dunstan and Dudley, the roguish proprietors, immediately make their move and commence their brilliant sales patter which sees Palfrey fall under there spell. This is a beautifully acted scene (see Memorable Quotes 4 ) that I could watch time and time again. Palfrey is persuaded to part with six hundred and ninety five guineas for the car without so much as a test drive and as soon as he drives off Dunstan and Dudley close shop.

Hard Cheese
Brilliant Film Poster

Palfrey immediately drives off to the tennis club for his match with Delauney. He has extreme difficulty in turning off the spluttering and gurgling engine which is now giving off noxious fumes. He finally succeeds in doing so and quickly enters the clubhouse only for the Swiftmobile to turn itself on again. Immediately on arrival at the club, Delauney begins his own form of one-upmanship. First, he selects the end that has Palfrey looking in to the sun; he then offers to give Palfrey a fifteen point start in all games and then insists on standing too close to the net in order to intimidate the server. As Palfrey suffers in the glare of the sun, he loses each point only to be greeted by the patronising expression of "Hard Cheese" (see Memorable Quotes 3 ). Our would be hero is easily beaten and humiliated in front of April. On returning to the spluttering Swiftmobile April and Delauney make fun of with Delauney saying it looks like "a Polish stomach pump". Palfrey's pride makes him deny that the car is his, claiming that his new car has not arrived yet. Yet again Delauney triumphs and now drives off with the girl

Lessons for Losers
Alastair Sim as Potter observing Oneupmanship classes

We now return to the present where Palfrey enrolls on the Lifemanship course for the substantial fee of �250 and is just in time for the Partymanship course where he learns to "stop the flow" of any rivals who are dominating the conversation at a party. Potter himself takes the Gamesmanship class where he teaches Palfrey certain techniques to use against his opponent in tennis. Following this, we have the Woomanship class where Palfrey learns the art of manipulating womankind to do general household work for him.

Speech Day
Alastair Sim as Potter makes an offer for the Swiftmobile

Under the guidance of an instructor, Potter himself, the Lifeman now proceeds in to the outside world to practice his newly won skills. Palfrey's first point of call is to return to the Winsome Welshmen garage to exact retribution for the lemon that he had been sold. He acts as if he is delighted with his purchase and tells the two proprietors that they had been running the Swiftmobile on the wrong petrol mix; he then proceeds to exaggerate the speeds he has gotten from the Swiftmobile - far more than they had achieved - to the extent that he has recently been made an offer from a famous racing driver; he even gets Potter to make him an offer for the car in front of them. With his new Lifemanship skills he out cons the con men until they make him an offer of a new sport scar. and �100 cash to take the Swiftmobile back from him (so, they think, they can sell it on at a much greater profit).

A Little Gloat
Potter observes Palfrey's oneupmanship on Gloatbridge

Palfrey then takes on his next challenge by returning to his office to confront Gloatbridge. In the company of Potter (whom Gloatbridge assumes to be the Chairman of a large company) he informs his manager that he is considering a merger with a large company. Palfrey then makes a small adjustment to the ledger and then brings Gloatbridge's attention to what is now perceived to be an error made by him. Gloatbridge is now very much disconcerted and Palfrey delivers the coup-de-grace by informing him that he personally will in future take a more watchful approach to the company accounts. Finally, Palfrey indicates that if the merger occurs there may be a requirement for personnel changes.

Following the one-upmanship with Gloatbridge, Palfrey now rings Delauney and starts the conversation by saying that the girl on the desk had put him through to the wrong number (just to put Delauney on the back foot). However, he then continues with his real objective of arranging a return tennis match.

Let the Games Begin
Potter in disguise at the Tennis Club

Delauney arrives in his Belini to pick-up Palfrey for the match. Palfrey then proceeds to irritate Delauney by pretending he has forgotten all about it and deliberately making him wait outside. He then deliberately misdirects him to April Smith's house just to wind him up even further and deliberately make him late for his rendezvous with April; he adds insult to injury by suggesting he only knows the way to her house in the dark. They arrive late and April has already left for the club. Delauney arrives on court already extremely agitated and Palfrey further exacerbates him with some further Lifemanship maneouvres - asking if he would like the net lowered and telling him he has just seen the General talking to the Secretary about Delauney's lateness. Needless to say, Delauney's now foul mood interferes with his game and he plays dreadfully. Just as Delauney is about to settle in to his game, Palfrey deploys his Gamesmanship skills and suggests they swap racquets because he feels he has an unfair advantage. The racquets are strung differently and Delauney starts to overhit every ball. April arrives in time to see Palfrey finish off Delauney 6-0 and is obviously in a huff with Delauney for not arriving in time to pick her up. Delauney is also reprimanded by the club members for filthy language and unsportsmanlike behavior.

Game, Set and Match
Potter Graduates Palfrey with Honours

Following the match Palfrey seeks out Potter and undergoes a hasty graduation ceremony. He receives his Lifemanship degree and is asked to pay three guineas for the privilege. Palfrey has passed with honours and Potter actually asks him to forget the girl and to come and work with him at the School of Lifemanship. Palfrey declines and as a parting gesture Potter suggests that he now uses the "disinterested" gambit. Palfrey drives off using the "two's company" excuse and leaves Delauney with April. However, as a result of his lying and his patronising behaviour towards her, she storms off.

The Glass Gambit
Delauney begins to suspect Potter

Delauney, on seeing Potter walk past him, begins to realise that something odd has been happening and he starts to follow Potter back to the School. In a somewhat smug way, Palfrey waits in his new sport scar. outside the tennis club in the knowledge that somehow it would be him driving her home. However, they actually drive back to Palfrey's apartment. Palfrey offers April a drink of whisky and then applies the "wet glass" gambit from his Woomanship course. April's dress is soaked and he suggests that she should change in to his dressing gown. He then deploys two more techniques: first, he changes in to a pair of socks that require darning (in an attempt to bring out her motherly instincts); and second, he adopts the persona of "Uncle Henry" so she does not feel threatened changing out of her dress.

A Failed Scoundrel
Alastair Sim as Stephen Potter addresses the film audience

Another ploy sees Palfrey manipulating April into the bedroom and she is about to succumb when his conscience gets the better of him and he asks her to get changed so that he can take her home. At this moment, an enraged Delauney arrives at the apartment with Potter and demands to be let in. He exposes Palfrey's attendance at the School (see Memorable Quotes 2 ). Palfrey now discards his Lifemanship skills (symbolically expressed by throwing Potter's book out of the window) and sincerely expresses his love for April. As Delauney rants Potter interrupts by exclaiming: "Sshh. We are witnessing the birth of a new ploy". Potter then goes on to directly address the film audience and states that once sincerity appears then Lifemanship is powerless (see Memorable Quotes 5 ). The film then ends with a train pulling in to Yeovil station and Delauney stepping out and heading towards the College of Lifemanship.

Potter: Well gentleman, lifemanship is the science of being one up on your opponents at all times. It is the art of making him feel that somewhere, somehow he has become less than you - less desirable, less worthy - less blessed. Who then you ask are your opponents? - everybody in the world who is not you. And the purpose of your life must be to be one-up on them because, and mark this well, he who is not one-up is one-down.

Delauney: He went to Yeovil. He went to the College of Lifemanship and he learnt all the tricks. All his dirty, rotten tricks.
Potter: No, no. Not tricks my good man. Art, science, philosophy if you like. No, no, not tricks.

Delauney: Hard cheese!

Dudley: (Following the failure of the horn) I've got a temporary flex in there; it's not really wired for excessive use.
Dunstan: Oh yes, one of the old type exhaustible horns that runs on the helical friction principle.
Palfrey: Oh, what's that?
Dudley: Too complicated to explain, I mean either you know or you don't.

Potter: Pull yourself together Palfrey, we are not alone (indicating the audience). I do apologise ladies and gentleman, events have taken a most unfortunate turn, the sort of calamity we cannot always guard against even amongst our best students, You see once . . . once sincerity rears its ugly head, well, Lifemanship is powerless. (Swelling music) Stop that music! . . . . Orchestra! . . . . Orchestra! Stop that infernal din! Please. . . . No. . . .Look at me. I must get back to Yeovil.

School for Scoundrels DVD cover