Oh, Mr. Porter!

Marcel Varnel | 1937 | ★★★★½
The finest and best known of the numerous riffs from the 1930s and ‘40s upon Arnold ‘Private Godfrey‘ Ridley's play The Ghost Train (1923), Oh, Mr. Porter! provided Will Hay with his defining and, indeed, most enduring role. In it he plays an incompetent rail worker who, thanks to the interference of his overbearing sister (the wife of the managing director of the railway) is made station master of a small, rundown halt in rural Northern Ireland. Looking to make a name for himself, he attempts to whip his staff – an impossibly old man and a chubby, impudent young boy (Moore Marriot and Graham Moffat, respectively) – into some sort of shape. However, years of dodgy dealing and a climate of superstition have made the position of station master of Buggleskelly all but untenable. Sure enough, he soon finds himself accosted by local tradesmen, angrily demanding trains for tickets that they have taken in exchange for goods. And worse soon follows, when he naively gets mixed up with gunrunners, who use a local legend about the ghost of a one-eyed miller as cover for their illicit activities. Hay is as excellent as ever, with Moffat and, in particular, Marriot also proving hilarious. Supporting turns are also good, with Dave O'Toole’s performance proving particularly memorable; whilst J.O.C. Orton, Val Guest, & Marriott Edgar’s screenplay – packed with dazzling word play and quotable dialogue – also proves an absolute cracker. Marcel Varnel – in his second collaboration with Hay – directs with customary pace and style.