Carlton-Browne of the F.O. (1959)

Carlton-Browne_of_the_FO_-_UK_poster Man in a Cocked Hat (1959)

Run time: 88 min
Rating: 6.2
Genres: Comedy
Director: Roy Boulting, Jeffrey Dell
Writers: Jeffrey Dell, Roy Boulting
Stars: Terry-Thomas, Peter Sellers, Luciana Paluzzi
Great Britain has had an international agreement for the last 50 years with a small pacific island. It has been ignored until the death of their king brings it to the attention of the Foreign Office in Whitehall. They decide to send Cadogan de Vere Carlton-Browne to re-establish friendly relations. Written by Steve Crook <>
Release Date: 11 April 1960 (Sweden)

4 responses to “Carlton-Browne of the F.O. (1959)”

  1. rgkeenan says:

    Peter Sellers and Terry-Thomas here vie for the honours in a dated but sparkling piece of bunkum. A comedy that aims at so many targets (the cold war US/USSR rivalry, the UN, the British civil service, ‘banana republics’…) normally fails, but this certainly has more hits than misses.

    There are two unmissable scenes. The first is a military march-past which is rolling-on-the-floor funny from first to last: the mixed up commentary (note the point when the commentator finally gets a sentence right!); the shenanigans on the parade ground; and the collapsing review stand all combine to excellent effect. Second, a more minor but tasty scene where a table dancer (she is dancing ON the table) distracts Terry-Thomas in the course of his diplomatic discussions- surprising how much eroticism can get through the ludicrously heavy censorship of the period!

    John Le Mesurier does an effective job in a ‘wicked uncle’ role torn straight from the pages of 19th century melodrama. Those who recall him from his small role in Ben-Hur might have cause to reflect that here is a supporting actor who gets about a bit!

    Overall, both Terry-Thomas and Peter Sellers have appeared in better films but, in parts, as funny a film as you are likely to find on a wet afternoon.

  2. rgkeenan says:

    CARLETON-BROWNE OF THE F.O. used to appear with some regularity in the New York metropolitan television area of the 1960s, but it was called "THE MAN IN THE COCKED HAT". This was not unusual. The comedy "THE NAKED TRUTH" was called "YOUR PAST IS SHOWING". I saw it twice back then, and remember a few points that have been downplayed in these reviews.


    It was not as serious a film as it seems to be to some of the reviewers. Rather it touched on the serious because it dealt with the end of Britain’s empire and the way the cold world politics of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. got entwined everywhere. What was being shown in the satire was that Britain (in the personality of it’s man on the spot, Carleton-Browne (Terry-Thomas)) was too civilized to handle the realities of the dark politics of the era (keep in mind the film is British, so it is not really looking closely at the view of British policies and actions from the point of third world countries). The irony of the film is that those civilizing traits happens to be the unifying point that brings an end to the civil war bloodshed that is smashing the island kingdom of Gaillardia apart.

    After showing how behind the times the foreign office of Raymond Huntley and Terry-Thomas is, we are taken to Gaillardia. A play is being attended by the King and his oldest son and heir, both of whom are bored by it. One of them says something like, "I’m blow-ed if I stay here". At that a bomb explodes killing them (paging Alistair Sim in THE GREEN MAN). The younger son, Ian Bannen, returns to the island, only to find that his uncle (John Le Messurier in an unusually ruthless and power-hungry role) is there to tell him it would be wisest if he would abdicate now. Bannen, who has been living in England, is trying to make his country a successful constitutional monarchy like mother England. He calls in the British Foreign Office, as his local "support" is the corrupt Prime Minister (Peter Sellers). The Foreign Office sends Terry-Thomas.

    He has no idea of what to do. The island is slowly splitting in half, due to the activities of Le Messurier and his candidate for the throne, a Princess of the house. Le Messurier does not know that the Princess (Luciana Palluzzi) has met the young Bannen when they both were returning home (both had been in England). Actually she is just as set to set up the constitutional monarchy as Bannen is (and as Le Messurier is not, nor – for that matter – as Sellers could care for). Unless you keep that in mind the plot of this seems aimless.

    Carleton-Browne (in his fumbling) comes up with a solution. It resembles the shamble solutions of East and West Germany (until 1989), Cypress (until today), North and South Vietnam (until 1975), and North and South Korea. He sets up a dividing line for Gaillardia so that both parties will be satisfied. It is voted on by the U.N. Security Council without any problem. Then it turns out that the aggression that Le Messurier brought to the matter was due to the U.S.S.R. It seems that the Northern part of the island has a valuable mineral the Russians need. When Carleton-Browne tries to undo the agreement, because he had not known this, Russia says he can’t.

    The British have been patrolling the demilitarized border area. Suddenly open civil war breaks out. Le Messurier thinks it is his opportunity, only to find his niece has a mind of her own, and it has no place for him as an adviser. Similarly (earlier) Bannen overhears Sellers offer to put the young king out of the way if Le Messurier will agree that he continue as Prime Minister of the reunited country. Bannen and Palluzzi both disappear, rendering their "pupper masters" useless. They only reappear when they confront Carleton-Browne – together they have formed a majority counter-insurgency to overthrow Le Messurier and Sellers. They are uniting to save the country.

    They do. Basically what happens at the end is that Bannen and Palluzzi will marry and bring a constitutional country (based on Britain) to the island. Le Messurier (stunned and sad faced) is going to retire to some hotel in Europe where ex-monarchs congregate at. He will be accompanied by Sellers.

    The comedy is in the film, but it is not consistent because of the commentary on modern diplomacy. Russia gets slapped for supporting dubious regimes (it’s supporting a monarchy here, of all things) for raw materials. The U.S. is not directly affected (it is Britain that is), so when a sequence of news headlines from Britain show what a disaster is about to happen, the American newspapers reflect some trivial items of passing interest. In the last sequence, symbolically, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. have sent teams to play a soccer match in front of the Gaillardians. Carleton-Browne, despite his naivety and bungling, has won a victory for British civility (if not for the empire). He kicks the first soccer ball, as Sellers looks with patient interest, and an explosion occurs (paging again, Alistair Sim). But a final newspaper headline mentions he is being awarded a knighthood for his wonderful success as a diplomat, while he recovers.

  3. rgkeenan says:

    My abiding love of Italian actress Lucianna Paluzzi, who helped jump-start my puberty with her performance in 1965's "Thunderball," has led me to some fairly unusual places. Case in point, this British curiosity from 1959, "Carlton-Browne of the F.O.," which features Lucianna in one of her earlier roles. She plays a princess in this one, although the picture is actually a showcase for the talents of Terry-Thomas and Peter Sellers, both of whose stars were certainly on the rise at this point. In this cute, often very funny film, we learn of the Madeira-like island nation of Gaillardia, which had been a British colony until 1916 and then universally forgotten. Forty-three years later, however, it becomes the center of worldwide attention and international espionage when valuable cobalt deposits are discovered there, and Her Majesty sends the bumbling Carlton-Browne of the Foreign Office to take charge. Terry-Thomas underplays this part nicely, as does Sellers in his role as Prime Minister Amphibulos of the tiny country. (This was Sellers' second film of 1959 concerning a tiny country matching wits with the world, the other being "The Mouse That Roared," of course.) Ian Bannen almost steals the show here as Gaillardia's suave king, and my girl Lucianna is as appealing as can be in her minor role. The film exhibits much in the way of very dry humor, although there ARE some belly laughs to be had (the reception at the Gaillardian airport, for example, and especially that May Day-style parade of Gaillardian strength). And Sellers' seedy prime minister, with his cracked English and seemingly perpetual sweat stains, is yet another memorable character in this great actor's pantheon. Despite the occasional instance or two of indecipherable, stiff-upper-lip British gibberish, I found this picture to be a winningly modest entertainment, and well presented on this crisp-looking Anchor Bay DVD.

  4. rgkeenan says:

    Another comedy about a plucky little country struggling through the jungle of the modern (for the forties) global world with only native wit and pluck to guide them, this is a fine entry in the Ealing cannon. Terry-Thomas sparkles as usual in the lead, as a feckless ministry man led to the brink of disaster when a nation he is supposedly in charge of starts attracting the interest of the world, Ian Bannen makes a great romantic lead, Peter Sellers puts in one of his quieter performances as a corrupt politico and the uber-suave John Le Mesurier plays against type as a rugged revolutionary leader. Lots of fun is had by all, especially the viewer; perhaps not in the very top echelon of Ealing classics, but pretty high up.

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