Dear Mr Prohack

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I’ve been watching Dear Mr Prohack, the 1949 film of Arnold Bennett’s Mr Prohack (1922) – the novel about a parsimonious civil servant who suddenly comes into  money  and finds his life transformed.

It’s a thoroughly amusing film with some witty dialogue, and  works well within its own terms. The post-WW1 setting is updated to post-WW2, with no loss. There is possibly some gain, as the satire on civil servants seems more pointed about a time when government regulation was at its fussiest.

But – as often happens with adaptations – I was left admiring the original more than the adaptation. The film is in an interesting way less daring than the novel.

That excellent actor Cecil Parker  is very good as Mr Prohack himself, but does not get much chance to show his enjoyment of wealth. The film script is too eager to point its moral of “money doesn’t bring happiness”, and turns every enterprise into a catastrophe. This goes against Bennett’s own contagious appreciation of the good things in life – he’s an author who likes

giving his characters treats, and isn’t all that interested in punishing  them with moral lessons. In the novel the whole family comes through triumphantly, despite a bumpy ride.

Dirk Bogarde plays Charlie, the ex-soldier son whose cynicism (in the novel) is fostered not by war but by post-war society, and who decides to take revenge on that society by working the capitalist system for all he can. Little of that comes through in Bogarde’s performance, though he’s watchable as usual.  Instead he seems a slightly naive but wilful young man, caught up in other people’s financial schemes.

At the end of the film, Mr Prohack rids himself of the burden of riches by giving all his money as an anonymous  gift to the Treasury, where he has returned to work. At the end of the novel, Charlie, who has come through his financial problems , presents Mr Prohack with a yacht (like the one that Bennett himself so enjoyed) and the family settles down to the enjoyment of riches and the promotion of exciting new capitalist enterprises.

So the moral of the film is the trte and dubious “Money can’t buy you happiness.” The moral of the novel is “Money is exciting. It may give you some difficult moments, but it’ll give you a chance to do something productive in the world.”

Far superior.

2 Comments

  1. Posted June 21, 2007 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    I have a strong interest in British films from the late 1940s dealing with ‘post-war issues,’ but I confess I hadn’t heard of this one. George, I wonder if I could ask you about the character of Charlie (in the film, that is). What, if anything, do they make of his ex-service status? That is to say, is his moral outlook inflected by his recent military experience?

  2. Posted June 21, 2007 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    Mr P. agrees to finance Charlie’s venture because he has lost six years of opportunity during the war, and there is one speech where Charlie hints at the kind of resentment that the Charlie of the novel embodies.
    Otherwise, he comes across as a fairly standard member of the younger generation who doesn’t really understand the deep financial waters that he’s getting into. He doesn’t have the energy of the Charlie in the book.
    But Dirk Bogarde is a good actor, and conveys a bit of defiant subtext.


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