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Classic film review: Vice Versa (1948)

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By Teon. Owen. Cromwell, Jr.

Paul Bultitude, (Roger Livesey), a wealthy stockbroker, cannot fathom why his eldest son, Dick (Anthony Newley), is apprehensive to return to boarding school after the holiday. While holding a magic stone, his former brother-in-law got from India, Paul wishes that he could be young again; a wish that is immediately fulfilled when father and son exchange bodies with each other. Soon Paul (in Dick’s body) is forced to attend boarding school and deal with bullies while Dick (in Paul’s body) is forced to deal with his father’s business affairs.

Released in January of 1948, Vice Versa is a comedy from Two Cities Films directed, written and produced by future two-time Academy Award winning actor Peter Ustinov. It is an adaptation of the 1882 novel Vice Versa: A Lesson to Fathers written by Thomas Anstey Guthrie, under the pseudonym "F. Anstey.” The film was the first lull length feature of Anthony Newley who would go on to become a successful songwriter penning, among other things, the songs for Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971). When the film was released reviews were lukewarm, however, in recent years the film viewed as inspired and hilarious.

It’s amusing to watch a boy going through puberty trying to find himself within an adult body all the while chasing the maid around the house, but not entirely sure as to why he is doing so. The actors do a serviceable job in their roles, and particularly Justice is great as a hypocritical headmaster; also, it’s fun to see a young Petula Clark years before she became famous. Predating many of the carbon copies which would come after, Vice Versa is an entertaining comedy which despite some silly parts and a simple plot (at least by today's standards) the overall execution is pristine.

  • Directed by — Peter Ustinov
  • Produced by — George H Brown and Peter Ustinov
  • Written by — Peter Ustinov
  • Starring — Roger Livesey, Anthony Newley, Petula Clark, Kay Walsh
  • Music by — Antony Hopkins

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