Ealing Studios released four comedies in 1949 – Passport to Pimlico, Whiskey Galore!, Kind Hearts and Coronets and A Run for Your Money. All four were nominated for Best British Film at the 3rd British Film Awards, later to become known as the BAFTAs. They lost to The Third Man. The first three of Ealing’s 1949 comedies have become classics in British film. A Run for Your Money is the outlier, a poor relation even. This lesser-spotted Ealing film is the latest to receive a handsome new release on Blu-ray and DVD by Network.
A Run for Your Money centres on David ‘Dai Number 9’ Jones and Thomas ‘Twm’ Jones, two colliers from the fictional South Wales mining village of Hafoduwchbenceubwllymarchogcoch. The friends win a contest run by the Echo newspaper, with the prize being £100 each and a trip to London to see Wales play England in a rugby match at Twickenham. It is their first trip outside of Wales, and one that quickly turns farcical as their prizes are threatened by their own ineptitude and an attractive confidence trickster. Directed by Charles Frend and from a story by Caerphilly-born actor Clifford Evans, A Run for Your Money was promoted as a “Welsh whirligig of leeks, larks and laughs”.
A largely affectionate film, A Run for Your Money nevertheless paints its Welsh characters as broad stereotypes. Huw (Hugh Griffith), a luckless harpist who moved to London in search of fame that didn’t come, is a dishonest hail-fellow-well-met type who steals money from friends and loves excessive drinking and singing. Dai Jones (Donald Houston) is an amiable simpleton who apologetically agrees when Londoner Jo (Moira Lister) brands him “just like a taffy, never open handed till the shops are shut”. Hugh Griffith gives Huw a twinkle, enhancing the character, but Donald Houston never overcomes the stereotype as Dai. Meredith Edwards, making his film debut on the recommendation of Griffith, fares a little better as Dai’s friend Twm. Both characters wear large leeks on their lapels, as does every single passenger on their train to London.
In the Ealing comedy canon, A Run for Your Money’s standing is helped by the presence of Alec Guinness, perhaps the actor most associated with the films. Guinness had acquired a reputation as a malleable master of disguise with his portrayal of nine members of the D’Ascoyne family in Kind Hearts and Coronets earlier in the year, but he’s somewhat underused here. Nevertheless, his comic cunning finds some good beats in Echo journalist Whimple. It’s a minor but well-rounded character, a gardening columnist with failed ambitions. Similarly, Moira Lister’s Jo is a glamourous con artist whose pursuit of Dai’s prize money leads to some complex struggles with her own humanity. These characters have nuance never afforded to the cardboard Welsh characters.
As the two leads are separated, with Twm trying to help Huw retrieve the Harp he pawned and Dai becoming entangled with Jo, it’s difficult to drum up much enthusiasm for either storyline. It’s not a winning film but A Run for Your Money does have some decent elements. There is some sharp dialogue, perhaps a result of the film’s five-strong scripting team. There are some good gags here too, especially in a charming scene with Twm and Huw catching a London underground train. Dai and Twm are certainly written patronisingly, but at their best, their optimism is endearing.
By and large, Network have done a beautiful job with this presentation, its first on home media in the original theatrical aspect ratio. However, the subtitles stood out to me. Barring a few “iawns” and “bachs”, little attempt is made to include Welsh words despite their abundance in the film. Glaringly, when hundreds of Rugby fans sing the national anthem Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, the subtitle reads “Rugby fans sing in Welsh”. I understand not everyone will be overly familiar but the title of the national anthem and its lyrics were surely only a Google search away. For this Welsh viewer, it’s disheartening.
The classic Ealing comedies are often praised for being English post-war daydreams. It is exactly this quality that fails this tale of three Welshmen out of Wales. The precise observations that made the London of Hue and Cry and Passport to Pimlico so enthralling don’t extend far enough out of the home counties to make A Run for Your Money much more than a curio. This release will surely delight Ealing completists, but it’s not the place to start.