Who Done It? (1956)

+++ Bit-part actor Hugo Dill sees his big chance: finally working as a private eye as had always been his dream. And as an avid reader of detective fiction, surely he is more than qualified.
On his very first day, however, things get muddled up. And by accident poor Hugo gets himself entangled in a case of international espionage. +++

This crime comedy caper, which was Benny Hill’s feature film debut, was a pleasant little surprise. I only knew Hill from his Yackety Sax days, but young Benny is an entirely different beast. A bit comedy-of-errors, with lots of slapstick and pratfalls and plenty of action, Who Done It? has a lot of similarity with Red Skelton’s Whistling… series. And young Benny Hill has a lot of similarity with Skelton in looks, posture, and comedic sensibility. Hill had been on television from 1950 onwards, and according to Wikipedia the film’s writer T. E. B. Clarke spent a lot of time studying Hill’s TV appearances so that he could model the screenplay to fit Hil’s strengths.

The international espionage plot does not provide an intriguing story; it is more an excuse for all the adventures that our hero stumbles into. Being a mediocre actor by trade, our hero Hugo at times employs costumes and disguises to masquerade as other people. This seems to have been a popular element of comedy at that time – one that Peter Sellers built an entire career around, but one that Hill himself also seems to have dragged into his Yackety Sax shtick, if I remember correctly.

The screenplay is solid enough, and it provides a lot of funny lines of dialogue. Directed by Basil Dearden, this film is nicely paced; although the chase-sequences in the last half hour are a bit annoying and too long.

It is not just Benny Hill who is great in this. This film has good performances all round. Among others you can spot Denis Shaw and Charles Hawtrey in this film. The major female supporting role is filled by Belinda Lee, who has the opportunity to play a rather funny and somewhat different female character: “Frankie” is a an almost inhumanly strong woman (basically a circus act), who decides she has to hide this fact as much as possible because she feels it alienated and frightens men.

The film also has great props and the sequences taking place at a broadcasting/tech exhibition is very well done an provides a lot of interesting background.
The film generally looks great, also thanks to the work of well-known cinematographer Otto Heller.

Who Done It? Was one of the last Ealing Comedies. And while it is undoubtedly a step down from the likes of The Ladykillers, it is still a fun watch (although I may be biased, given my weakness for crime comedy). I rate this film at 6.5 to 7.0 out of 10.


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