Heavens Above! (1963)

Heavens Above!
Directed by John and Ray Boulting
Written by Frank Harvey and John Boulting
1963/UK
British Lion Film Corporation/Romulus Films/Charter Film Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

The Reverend John Smallwood: This town is full of people who *call* themselves Christians. But from what I’ve seen of it, I wouldn’t mind taking a bet there aren’t enough *real* Christians about to feed one decent lion.

This send-up of religion and modernity is black enough to satisfy fans of Luis Buñuel.

The setting is a one industry country town in England.  It’s source of prosperity is an over-the-counter medicine called Tranquilax – a three-in-one nostrum that acts as a sedative, pep pill and laxative.  The living of the Church of England vicarage has become vacant. The Bishop recommends a man named Smallwood.  Unfortunately, while he is away on vacation his staff appoints the wrong man.  At the time, this Smallwood (Peter Sellers) is chaplain of a prison where he is famous for being too chummy with the prisoners.

When he arrives, Smallwood scandalizes the upper crust by choosing a black assistant, taking in a family of welfare fraudsters, and by his pointed attacks on the general morals of his new parish.  Things change when he manages to convert the head of the Tranquilax family and she starts giving away her wealth to the “needy”.  Eventually, though, all Smallwood’s good intentions backfire.

Peter Sellers is excellent in an almost straight dramatic role.  Although the film is a black comedy, it succeeds on Sellers’ slightly daft sincerity.  This was a little too mean-spirited to captivate me but it is quite well-made.

Clip – the reverend arrives