George Formby is still one of film’s most unlikely superstars. The Lancastrian comic’s screen performances, always as a gawping everyman nifty at the banjolele who must achieve success in a field alien to him and win the affections of a middle-class girl, endeared him to audiences worldwide during the 1930s and 1940s. While these films are somewhat formulaic, they are never less than charming and both Formby and his lightly ribald songs have remained prominent in the public consciousness.
The seventh in a highly successful eleven-film run for ATP (Associated Talking Pictures), Trouble Brewing sees Formby play George Gullip, a newspaper compositor who dreams of being a detective. After his racing winnings are replaced by “slush” money, Gullip goes undercover to snare the counterfeiters. Googie Withers co-stars as George’s love interest Mary Brown while Gus McNaughton, Martita Hunt and Formby regular Ronald Shiner appear in supporting roles.
This film captures a 35-year-old Formby at the peak of his powers. Some music hall film stars of this era come across as laboured and frankly a little trying today, but Formby’s appeal has made it to 2020 intact. There are plenty of great gags here as Gullip’s efforts turn farcical, and even the more risqué humour is agreeable from a modern perspective. Formby is best remembered for his songs and “turned out nice again” catchphrase but Trouble Brewing is a great example of the physical comic; there are several action-packed set pieces including a brilliant scene where George finds himself in a wrestling ring. Googie Withers shines as one of Formby’s strongest female co-stars. There’s a great chemistry which makes it a shame she didn’t appear with Formby again. The three songs in this film – I Can Tell It by My Horoscope, Hitting the High Spots Now and Fanlight Fanny – are all catchy numbers among Formby’s best.
Trouble Brewing has received a new scan from original film elements in its original theatrical aspect ratio for this, its Blu-ray debut. It looks and sounds excellent. George Formby’s film catalogue hasn’t always been served well by physical media, so this new release is greatly welcome. Trouble Brewing’s sharp pace and action sequences make it a memorable instalment in the Formby canon.