January 2, 2017

Old Mother Riley, MP (1939)

“Old Mother Riley, MP” is one of the later films that have Arthur Lucan’s brilliant character Old Mother Riley in a role that is both feminist and hilarious as a living caricature of an old lady who will do anything to fend for survival. Mother Riley recognizes her disenfranchised status as a poor person, and plans on doing something about it by running for a Parliament seat. She encounters a number of obstacles on the way there, but manages to overcome them through the support of her loving daughter Kitty, Kitty’s boyfriend Jack, and Archie, a boarder.

Film stillMother Riley and her daughter Kitty just lost their jobs in the laundry after their boss, Mr. Wicker (Henry B. Longhurst) and their supervisor (Cynthia Stock) reprimanded them for not doing their job properly. Out of a job, the two ladies have to figure out how they will be able to make enough money to survive. Back at home, Jack Nelson, who is Kitty’s boyfriend, shows up at the front door. Jack is a sailor who just came home from the Mediterranean and decides to spring a surprise visit on Kitty. Old Mother Riley is happy to see Jack, and invites him inside the house. Upstairs, Kitty is posing for a painting by Archie (Patrick Ludlow), who is a boarder in Mother Riley’s house. Mother Riley tells Kitty that Jack is downstairs to see him. Kitty is elated to hear this news and runs downstairs to greet Jack. Archie continues to talk to Mother Riley, telling her that he has been commissioned to paint a portrait of a wealthy client, who turns out to be Wicker. The good news is, Archie will be able to pay his rent since he has made very little as a painter in the past few months. Wicker will be arriving soon, and because Archie never tells Mother Riley who the wealthy client is, she happily prepares tea for the guest. Downstairs in the kitchen, Jack and Kitty catch up on their relationship since they last saw each other.

Wicker arrives at Mother Riley’s house and goes upstairs to pose for the portrait. Once Mother Riley brings up the tea, she is appalled to see that the guest is Wicker, her former boss. A brief argument takes place between them, and she leaves him, after throwing the tea set onto the floor.  Back in the kitchen, Jack and Kitty continue talking to each other. Mother Riley tells them who the wealthy guest is that Archie is painting. Jack tells Mother Riley what he just finished saying to Kitty: that he plans on volunteering for the China station as a sailor. He doesn’t have to leave immediately, however, and is willing to stay for awhile to help Mother Riley and her daughter get back on their feet financially.

Film stillJack is in a pub enjoying a beer and speaks with the bartender. Mother Riley comes in and tells Jack of her plans to run for Parliament. She believes that she has what it takes to make a difference for the working poor and the unemployed in England. Making a motion to drink Jack’s beer, he takes it from her, and the bartender gives her a white pitcher of beer to drink from. After pouring down a slug, Mother Riley tells them she plans on running for a seat and winning, and in doing so, breaks the pitcher against the bar counter.

Mother Riley takes to a soapbox addressing the people who live nearby her home in an alley. She knows what it is like to be a member of the working poor class and wants to see all of that changed. The crowd, of course, cheers her on since they believe a woman is more sensitive to their plight than a wealthy man who provides only lip service to the poor. Social equality for the working poor is her goal. Mother Riley does believe that women should have the same opportunities as men do, which at one point is handed a baby by Kitty. In true campaign fashion, Mother Riley holds the baby girl and continues saying to the crowd: “Why shouldn’t this baby become a general?” Kitty whispers something to her mother, reminding her that girls should be free to choose any career they want. Mother Riley concludes with saying that the baby might also become a Red Cross nurse one day.

Back in Mother Riley’s kitchen, Jack, Kitty, Archie, and Mother Riley herself put their heads together to figure out how they can raise campaign money. Jack suggests that Mother Riley hold an auction of some of her personal belongings. Everyone is happy to help out, and Mother Riley successfully raises enough money to help pay for her campaign. Once she has enough money, Mother Riley searches for an inexpensive rental space for her campaign office. She, Jack and Kitty clean up the office and make it look professional. While Mother Riley is whitewashing the ceiling and walls, Wicker stops by and gets a face full of whitewash from Mother Riley. Initially thought of as an accident, she again paints his face, as they fight over who would represent the working poor better. Wicker finally leaves. As part of the political campaign, Mother Riley and her daughter Kitty knock on doors to ask for votes. They don’t have much luck until they come to a house where a midget couples lives with their son, who is a giant. They do, in fact, agree to vote for Mother Riley.

Film stillWicker resorts to a smear campaign in the hopes of bringing Mother Riley down. He visits her house, has his campaign aide plant a sum of 150 pounds in a can in her kitchen cabinet, then steals her umbrella, thinking he can frame her for a crime she did not commit. Mother Riley is arrested, then bailed out by her daughter. After Mother Riley and Kitty head back to the campaign office, they discover a crowd is vandalizing it from the inside out. Mother Riley is brave, though, and fights off the vandals.

Wicker gives his final campaign speech to his audience but instead of discussing his plans as an MP, he uses that time to tell his supporters that he and not Mother Riley is the person for the job. He wants to see her taken down one last time. At the same time, Mother Riley is ready to give her campaign speech to her supporters but find their audience to be largely missing. They finally stream in, though, and are anxious to hear what she has to say. Promising to deliver her campaign promises, they support her while Mother Riley has them eating out of her hand. Wicker arrives, too, only to be booed and pelted for his attempted smear campaign against her.

The election finally takes place. Mother Riley wins by one vote more over Wicker. She has her day in the House of Commons, giving a speech even though she violates protocol when speaking. Because of her speech, however, she is chosen to be a cabinet member. Mother Riley remains a doer and not a talker during her political career, and her first task is to get the Emperor of Rocavia (Dennis Wyndham) to pay England back fifty-five million pounds including interest that was loaned to his nation. She succeeds in getting him to pay with some very funny results.

Film stillDirected by Oswald Mitchell, “Old Mother Riley, MP” synthesizes slapstick comedy with malapropisms and everything in between to create one of the best Old Mother Riley films. Mitchell has previously directed other Mother Riley films, including “Old Mother Riley in Paris.” Lucan is credible as Old Mother Riley wanting to seek social equality for the poor and unemployed, and Kitty McShane, Torin Thatcher, and Henry B. Longhurst turn in stellar performances in this comedy. The story itself is well written and continuous without any unexplained gaps in the plot, making it easy for the viewer to follow. Written by Mitchell and Con West, the characters in the film could very well be real life figures who are trying to survive during the time of the Great Depression. “Old Mother Riley, MP” is a film that is sure to please anyone who appreciates classic British comedy.

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About Mary Haberstroh

Mary Haberstroh has written 17 post in this blog.

  • http://none Stephen Mulligan

    Dear Sir/Madam

    I have been trying to find Old Mother Rileys Ghost I saw this when I was young in the 1950′s I could have been mistaken about the title
    but I do remember a mansion was involved.

    I noticed HMV have some of Arthur Lucan’s films I would have liked to be able to trace the films but they may have not been copied to Super 8 for my projector.

    Laurel&Hardy and Charlie Chaplin were I have the silent versions