Vintage Movies: “The Belles Of St. Trinian’s”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’00s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

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The Belles Of St. Trinian’s (1954, 91 minutes)

The opening shot of this rollicking British comedy is a close-up of a wooden sign that reads “St. Trinian’s School For Young Ladies.” Swinging gently in the summer breeze wafting across the English countryside, the weather-beaten plaque seems to be riddled with the handiwork of local woodpeckers, until one hears the unmistakable, rapid-fire cough of a machine gun not far away. Welcome to St. Trinian’s—anything but your ordinary learning institution for young girls.

As a train pulls into the Barchester station, the high-pitched bedlam from a horde of screaming, pre-pubescent girls, about to disembark after a day-long outing, engulfs the surrounding landscape like a tidal wave as it swallows up the mighty roar of locomotive engines. The station’s shop-keepers nervously board up their businesses as the local police are put on full alert. Even the chickens from a nearby farm scurry back into their roost, terrified, as if this were nothing less than the invading army of Attila the Hun, ravaging the British countryside for food.

Clarence Fritton (Alastair Sim) hobbles up the steps to the office of the head-mistress of St. Trinian’s with his 13-year-old niece, Arabella, in tow. He makes polite enquiry of a voluptuous young woman stationed just outside the office and gets no reply whatsoever. “She’s a very odd woman,” mutters Fritton. “What does she teach?” he asks his niece. “Scripture and needlework,” replies Bella, inhaling deeply from the stub of a cork-tipped cigarette.

“Clarence, I thought I’d made it abundantly clear that Arabella has been expelled,” says Miss Fritton, the elderly head mistress and Clarence’s sister (also played by Sim). “Monica Drew wasn’t expelled when she burned down the gymnasium,” says Bella (Vivienne Martin), stamping out her ciggie on the carpet. “The gymnasium was insured. The sports pavilion was not,” explains Miss Fritton. “We can no longer afford to have continual arson about in my school. I had to make an example,” she explains to her brother. “But why pick on Arabella?” asks Clarence.

Miss Fritton closes her eyes to the never-ending din to recall more pleasant times. “When we started the school in 1926, we vowed to make it the happiest, most care-free estate in the whole of Britain,” she replies. “What a gay arcadia of girls it was back then. But once the war broke out, such things as good taste and good manners were replaced by your black-market values. And why are you so anxious for me to take Arabella back?” “Business,” her brother replies. “I hear that the Sultan of Magyid is sending his daughter to school here. And the Sultan has a string of first-class race horses.” Aghast, his sister replies, “You mean to say you want me to re-admit Arabella simply to get you racing information? This is a school, not Newmarket Heath!”

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