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Folly to be Wise

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Title: Folly to be Wise  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Alastair Sim, Frank Launder
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Folly to be Wise

Folly to Be Wise
Directed by Frank Launder
Produced by Sidney Gilliat
Written by James Bridie (play)
John Dighton
Frank Launder
Starring Alastair Sim
Elizabeth Allen
Ronald Culver
Edward Chapman
Martita Hunt
Music by Temple Abady
Cinematography Jack Hildyard
Editing by Thelma Connell
Distributed by British Lion Film Corporation
Release date(s) 19 January 1953
Running time 91 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Folly to Be Wise is a 1953 British comedy film directed by Frank Launder and starring Alastair Sim, Elizabeth Allan, Roland Culver, Colin Gordon, Martita Hunt and Edward Chapman. It is based on the play It Depends What You Mean by James Bridie.[1] The film follows the efforts of a British Army Chaplain attempting to recruit entertainment acts to perform for the troops and the complications that ensue when he does.[2] The title is taken from the line by Thomas Gray "where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise,".


Having recently taken over the role of entertainments officer at an army camp the Padre Captain William Paris is disheartened so few of the troops turn out for an evening of classical music. He visits a local pub and finds the place packed with soldiers, including his own driver. He then resolves to try and secure something more entertaining for the troops and comes up with the idea of bringing in a Brain Trust to answer questions from the audience.

With the help of Lady Dodds the Captain manages to gather together a group of local notables, who all swiftly prove to be mildly eccentric. The group includes the opinionated Professor Mutch, who is a popular radio personality with the BBC, and his friend the oil painter George Prout and his wife Angela. While arriving at their house, the Captain interrupts Mutch and Mrs Prout who are about to embrace. Upon meeting Mr Prout he soon finds him a cold man who verbally abuses his wife. The Trust is rounded out by the wandered Doctor McAdam and the chippy local Labour MP Joseph Byres.

With the help of his secretary, Private Jessie Killigrew, the Captain manages to organise the event. The hall is relatively well filled. Trying to avoid anything controversial, the Captain forbids any discussion of politics and begins with some innocuous questions about cows chasing after trains and if the Moon is inhabited? Things soon become heated when the MP takes offence at comments directed at him and threatens to start a fight. Having only just averted this, a question about marriage reveals the fragility of the Prout's marriage. Fearing any controversy, the Captain quickly announces that it is time for the interval.

As word spreads around the camp of the goings-on, the second half begins with the room completely packed. The Captain tries to steer the debate back to harmless questions about bluebottles, but the audience demands an answer to the earlier question about marriage. As the Prouts begin arguing once again, Mrs Prout admits that the Professor is her lover. At this the whole event threatens to descend into anarchy despite the attempts of the Captain to maintain order. Desperate to restore a sense of propriety he draws the proceedings to a close, and announces that next week they will return to classical music by inviting a string quartet. A soldier stands up and thanks the Captain for providing such entertainment and asking if the Brain Trust can be made a regular feature.

Worried about Mr Prout who has disappeared and has been drinking heavily, the others follow him back to his house where they mistakenly believe that he is going to throw himself over the cliffs. Instead he is planning on a bit of quiet painting. Meanwhile the Professor has revealed himself to be an inherently selfish man, while Mr Prout is suddenly far more reasonable. He and Mrs Prout soon resolve their differences, and he tries to be a little more considerate to her.

The film ends with the string quartet playing once more and the Captain sitting almost entirely alone in the theatre.



The film was shot at Shepperton Studios and made by the British Lion Film Corporation. James Bridie wrote the screenplay, adapting it from his own play. Alastair Sim had previously produced the play in a 1944 run at the Westminster Theatre and was a driving force behind bringing it to the screen.[3] Launder was encouraged to make the film by Alexander Korda.[4]


A contemporary New York Times review described the film as a "cheerful British import". While noting that the film did not "succeed in building into towering proportions the fragile theme of what makes a marriage tick" the cast had made it "all worth while". The review praised the performance by Alastair Sim in particular.[5]

Sim was nominated for a Best Actor BAFTA for his role as Captain Paris, but lost out to Ralph Richardson for his performance in The Sound Barrier



  • Harper, Sue & Porter, Vincent. British Cinema of the 1950s: The Decline of Deference. Oxford University Press, 2003.
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