by Douglas Messerli
Gilbert Holland (Donald Ogden Stewart) (screenplay, based on a play by Roger MacDougall), Philip Leacock (director) Escapade / 1955, USA 1957
Donald Ogden Stewart, as Djuna Barnes disgruntledly perceived as early as her interview with the playwright and later film writer in 1930 (see My Year 2000), seemed to have been born to succeed. Already by that time he had been immortalized in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises as the character Bill Gorton, was a member of the legendary Algonquin Round Table, and had authored several plays and novels. Soon after, Stewart would go on to write the film scripts for Tarnished Lady, Holiday, The Philadelphia Story, Life with Father, and other popular films.
Meanwhile…back at school, the headmaster, Dr. Skillingworth (Alastair Sim) is fearful that something’s up. He has been discovering, in part through the bad-boy spying of his own son, messages between the boys, half in Latin and in other codes that suggest they are planning something. As soon as Johnny and his friends arrive back at the institution they are called into his office to shed some light on the illicit messages. While interviewing them, he witnesses Johnny’s brother, Max (Andrew Ray), attacking his own son, nicknamed Skilly (Colin Freear) for being a snitch. The school faculty holds a quick meeting, fearful of the secretive communications—in a way that parallels Johnny’s own boyhood imagination in which he fears that the headmaster is being spied upon through secret microphones—between their charges. Leacock, in short, quickly turns the institution into a metaphoric cold-war world, where fear subsumes any rational behavior.