What the Butler Saw (1950) - A Hammer Production

After traveling around the world, an Earl and his butler return to England with a stowaway - an island princess who loves the butler.

The Film Has Its Moments of Hilarity

Lapis and Bembridge momentarily off guard

In this upper crust home of restraint, everything goes wild. At first, no one knows Princess Lapis (Mercy Haystead) is there, then the Earl and Bembridge the butler try to hide her, then the rest of the family members discover her and are remarkably inhospitable.

Then they must decide what to do with her. They discover her father, the island king, believes she's been kidnapped; a potential war is on the rise. All the while, the princess has only one thing on her mind - marriage to the butler.

In the meantime, the Earl's granddaughter (Anne Valery) may or may not be in love with the reporter who dropped into her house 10 minutes ago.

The grandson, Gerald (Michael Ward ) is hilarious, He's an unapologetic elitist who is always after the Earl to invest in his barley water idea. Gerald is "...in need of a little extra capital in order to give my background that surety which the dignity of my position requires."

Edward Rigby as Grandfather/The Earl gives a particularly winning performance. He's charming, enthusiastic about anything and everything. Forgetting himself, he stands up at the dinner table with a half-peeled apple in his hands as he describes his adventures. Everyone is horrified at his lack of decorum. I love this scene.

He's egalitarian and humble. His compassion for Princess Lapis' situation is quite lovely.

Henry Mollison did give me a chuckle or two as the stoic butler whose exploits away from home were apparently much wilder than anyone imagined. He is another version of Grandfather, but, considering his position, he is not allowed to express his thoughts very often. He plays the part earnestly, which makes his dialogue all the more fun. ("If the family should discover you, the fat WOULD be in the fire.")

Hammer Productions

What the Butler Saw is from the famed Hammer Film Studios (founded by William Hinds, whose stage name was Will Hammer). This studio is known for horror films of the mid-1950s to the 1970s.

However, before the Dracula movies, the studio produced film adaptations of radio shows, lightweight comedies all set in one spot and other inexpensive films. In Britain, filmmakers came under a legislative act that attempted to promote films -  The Cinematograph Films Act of 1927.  

According to journalist, Lawrence Napper in his article "‘Quota Quickies’: the Birth of the British ‘B’ Film"
"The Act stipulated that a certain percentage of films offered for distribution in Britain must be made in Britain..."

If you distributed films, you had to meet a minimum number of movies. The Act would not be repealed until the 1960s. Thus, in the early to mid-twentieth century, many British studios, like Hammer, began churning  out dozens of cost-effective films known as "quota quickies." These were fillers for the main feature.

To defray the cost of maintaining a permanent studio, Hammer often shot movies in rented mansions or country houses. (What the Butler Saw was filmed at Oakley Court, which is today a hotel on the River Thames.) As a result, many Hammer films of this era incorporate story lines involving drawing rooms, class differences and family disputes.

We recommend What the Butler Saw as a novelty, a bit of 1950s British B film cinema.


  1. It's odd seeing a comedy film bearing the production name of "Hammer". I've heard of this title but wasn't aware of what it was about...it sounds good!

    1. It's a strange film, but the early Hammer Films are worth checking out if you can find them. I found this one on Youtube.

      -- JAVA aka Deborah


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