What do you get when you combine George Formby, Nazi spies, missing British merchant ships, and good old fashioned patriotism? You get a fun comedy-Britnoir film titled “Let George Do It!” The well known ukulele player from the 1940′s takes on Adolf Hitler in what is possibly his best film and showcases his musical in addition to his natural comedic talent. Directed by Marcel Varnel, George animatedly transforms from his naturally shy persona into the courageous hero his mother would be proud of, since he would do anything to please her.
The story opens with an orchestra playing in the grand ballroom of a hotel in Bergen, Norway at the brink of World War 2. When the conductor, who is later revealed to be a German spy, cues the orchestra to play “Oh Don’t the Wind Blow Cold”, an attractive lady in a white dress starts to dance around the floor as the audience watches, perhaps oblivious to what is really taking place that night: an innocuous looking piece of music is actually being used to communicate messages to German submarines which then sink any British merchant ships it encounters. Germany has not yet invaded Norway but was slowly moving in, eventually taking over in April 1940. George Hepplewhite (Formby) is called in to replace a murdered ukulele player in the orchestra who made the wrong move in delivering a certain piece of music, or maybe even fail to deliver it at all.
Once the conductor, Mark Mendez (Garry Marsh), calls a musical talent agency, a replacement musician is sent. What Mendez does not know is that the person he asks for, Bill Norman, never arrives but a meek and mild mannered Hepplewhite shows up, simply wanting a music gig. Hepplewhite is a member of the Dinky Doos, a group that travels throughout England performing feel-good music during a bleak period of British history on the eve of World War 2. Once Hepplewhite boards the S.S. Marmoset, thinking that he is headed for Blackpool to perform, he finds himself in Bergen, Norway. On board the ship, George gets seasick, prompting one of the ship’s stewards to help him get to his cabin. George is staying in cabin 9 but reads his key number upside down, eventually winding up in the cabin of a woman (Helena Pickard) he ran into earlier before he left England. The woman’s husband, Oscar (Bernard Lee) is in the cabin next to her, and the couple continues to run into George throughout the movie, never really prepared to deal with the havoc he tends to attract.
At customs in Bergen, one of the bags George carries for a band mate, Alf Arbuckle (Hal Gordon) is opened by the desk clerk who is met with all sorts of surprises that would be better suited for a party or magic show than a professional music group: a mile long piece of ribbon condensed in a small edible looking object, a birdcage, and a flower. At that point George manages to escape on a hand cart and makes his way to a taxi where he is picked up by his contact man, Slim Selwyn (Romney Brent) who thinks that Bill Norman is sitting by his side. George eventually picks up on why he is in Bergen when he is invited to meet with a British contact up in his hotel room after a performance. As with so many other invitations to meet important contacts, it is in the form of a handwritten message and personally delivered to him before the performance. George expects to see a man, so it is perfectly explainable when he suddenly becomes bashful around the lovely Iris (Coral Browne). She attempts to talk him into doing the right thing for England, even when he tries to tell her that he is not with British Intelligence. George humorously tells her, “I’m not intelligent at all, I’m a Dinky Doo!” But soon George finds himself considering that he could be doing his nation a great service, and even though he is a Dinky Doo, he is patriotic and starts to believe in what he can do, versus what he has been trained to do, which is be a mild mannered musician.
But being patriotic is not without its humorous antics, at least for George Hepplewhite. The first thing he does is enter Mendez’s hotel room to look through the music sheets in an effort to discover what key the song “Oh Don’t the Wind Blow Cold” is in so that he could intercept the German subs from attacking a merchant ship. He finds what he needs, which happens to be a rolled up music sheet hidden in a bottle. He takes photographs of it, then quickly exits the room after Mendez returns from his nightly bath. George escapes through the window and falls through the roof of the bakery below. He temporarily becomes separated from his camera, as each of them end up in two different vats of bread batter. Once he finds the camera, he meets a second female British agent, also a woman, who is a receptionist at the hotel concierge. Mary Wilson (Phyllis Calvert) and George plan to rendezvous but they do so rather unexpectedly when George finally escapes Mendez and follows him to the U-boat.
George dreams of being a major British war hero. He has a dream where he is personally taking on Hitler, physically beating him up after falling from a dirigible. He exposes Mendez and Slim as wearing shorts with big swastikas printed on them, and the pearly gates of heaven that have a sign reading “British passports only”, inferring that no Nazis will be spending any time there. Once he awakens from his dream, he knows there is a job to be done, and an important one at that. After his last performance in the grand ballroom where the ill-fated musician was shot, George manages to escape the rest of the orchestra who suspects he will double cross German plans to attack the MacAuley, a merchant ship. He hides out in a small rowboat that Mendez and Selwyn later take directly to the German submarine. George clobbers Selwyn over the head and puts on his raincoat before sneaking on board the submarine. On the submarine, the commander (Torin Thatcher) greets Mendez and George makes his way to the radio controls, alerting the MacAuley that a German submarine is heading towards it. He cleverly devises a plan to create a diversion simply by using a compass to pinch the commander from behind, while all control over the submarine’s direction is lost. Eventually the submarine goes off balance, descending and ascending beneath the ocean’s surface, creating defeat for the Nazis.
George Formby is at his musical best in “Let George Do It!”. He performs “Count Your Blessings and Smile”, “Mr. Wu Is a Window Cleaner Now”, “My Granddad’s Flannelette Nightshirt”, and “Oh Don’t the Wind Blow Cold” while he is trying to save England from untold destruction by the Nazis. George is of course the star of the movie which has an excellent supporting cast with Marsh, Brent, Lee, Pickard, and Percy Walsh.
Released in 1940, the movie was titled “To Hell with Hitler” in the United States. As with other war comedies from that era, portraying unlikely heroes were meant to uplift audiences. Varnel also directed “Gasbags” which was released the following year and starred the Crazy Gang as the patriots who save England from attack by the Nazis. Varnel and Formby continued to work again in more films, notably “South American George” in 1941 and “Bell-Bottom George” in 1944. Written by Basil Dearden and John Dighton, “Let George Do It!” is sure to bring laughter to future audiences who appreciate comedy-Britnoir films.