The Wrong Box

The Wrong Box is a 1966 British comedy film produced and directed by Bryan Forbes from a screenplay by Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove, based on the 1889 novel The Wrong Box by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne. It was made by Salamander Film Productions and distributed by Columbia Pictures.[1][2]

The Wrong Box
The Wrong Box.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBryan Forbes
Produced byBryan Forbes
Jack Rix
Larry Gelbart
Burt Shevelove
Written byLarry Gelbart
Burt Shevelove
Based onThe Wrong Box
by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne
Music byJohn Barry
CinematographyGerry Turpin
Edited byAlan Osbiston
Salamander Film Productions
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • 27 May 1966 (1966-05-27) (London, UK)
Running time
107 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

The cast includes a number of Britain's leading actors and comic actors of the time, including John Mills, Ralph Richardson, Michael Caine, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Peter Sellers, Irene Handl, Nanette Newman, Wilfrid Lawson, and Tony Hancock. Included in the cast are other actors who later became more well-known, including John Le Mesurier, John Junkin, Leonard Rossiter, Nicholas Parsons, Jeremy Lloyd, Graham Stark, Thorley Walters, Norman Rossington, David Lodge, Juliet Mills, and Norman Bird. Cicely Courtneidge also appears, as Salvation Army Major Martha and The Temperance Seven also appear (as themselves).[3][1]


In the early 19th century, a lawyer explains to a group of young boys that a tontine has been organised in which £1,000 has been invested in the name of each child (£20,000 in total) and that the last survivor will win the accrued total of all invested sums. We then see a series of accidental deaths, explaining the demise of various members of the group.

63 years later, in Victorian London, elderly brothers Masterman (John Mills) and Joseph Finsbury (Ralph Richardson), who live next to each other, are the last surviving members of the tontine. Masterman is attended by his unpromising medical student grandson, Michael Finsbury (Michael Caine), who is sent next door to summon Joseph where he is greeted by his cousin Julia (Nanette Newman). They have seen each other often on the street and admired each other. She explains Joseph is in Bournemouth with her cousins. They talk in a room containing a large collection of eggs of different species.

Meanwhile, his greedy cousins Morris (Peter Cook) and John (Dudley Moore), receive a telegram from Michael in their boarding house in Bournemouth, saying that Masterman is dying. Masterman hasn't talked to his despised brother in many years.

On the train trip to London, Joseph escapes from his grandson minders, entering a compartment, and boring the sole occupant with a diatribe of trivial facts about the history of knitting (the silent man is knitting). His traveling companion later turns out to be the "Bournemouth Strangler." Joseph leaves to smoke a cigarette, leaving behind his coat, which the strangler dons. The train then collides with another one coming in the other direction. In the wreckage, Morris and John find the strangler's mangled body and mistakenly believe it is that of their uncle. They hide the body in the woods in order to hide the death. Morris tells John to crate the body up and post it to London. Meanwhile, Joseph wanders off and obtains a ride on a coach where he bores the driver with tales of how many words are in the Bible.

In London, Michael gets a telegram telling him to expect a crate containing a statue. Morris arrives at the door immediately after. He mistakes the elderly butler for Masterman.

Morris decides to try to hide the body long enough for Masterman to pass away, then claim Joseph died of a heart attack upon hearing the news. Morris and John plot to ship the body to Joseph's London home where Julia lives. John, left behind to attend to this task, sends the body in a large barrel. However, it is delivered to Masterman's house by mistake. Joseph makes his way to London on his own and visits his brother. Masterman attempts to kill his brother a number of times, with Joseph oblivious to the attempts. They separate after quarreling. Joseph signs for a barrel for "Mr Finsbury" as he leaves Masterman's house. Minutes later, a separate container, a crate, and the "wrong box" of the title, arrives at Joseph's house, also to "Mr Finsbury". Julia signs for it believing it to be a large consignment of eggs. The house number is also partially obscured. Therefore, the containers are mistakenly delivered to the wrong houses.

Morris, arriving at Joseph's house in John's absence, sees a delivery wagon just leaving and assumes that his uncle's body has just been delivered. Morris then goes to Dr. Pratt (Peter Sellers) to try to obtain a blank death certificate. Michael helps move the crate into Joseph's house. Julia swoons at the sight of him and they kiss for the first time. Julia explains she is not related by blood to Michael as Joseph is her guardian, not her father. Her parents were eaten by cannibals.

Things become complicated when Michael discovers the contents of the barrel and, after learning of the "altercation" between Masterman and Joseph from family butler Peacock (Wilfrid Lawson), assumes that his grandfather has killed his brother. Michael and Peacock debate who should take the blame in order to protect Masterman as they originally plan to tell the police.

Michael hides the body in a piano when Julia brings Masterman some broth. That night, Michael hires unscrupulous "undertakers" to remove the strangler's body from the piano and dump it into the Thames, but Masterman falls down the staircase and they assume his unconscious body is the one they are to dispose of. Morris observes the activity and gleefully assumes Masterman has died.

Further misunderstandings and antics ensue the next day as the cousins claim that the tontine has been won. The controlling lawyer says it has accrued to a total of £111,000.

After being fished out of the canal, Masterman is brought home by the Salvation Army. They assume he was trying to kill himself, but the "undertakers" had thrown him in. Julia orders a fancy coffin for her uncle. Morris orders a cheap coffin to remove the mutilated body he thinks is in Joseph's basement, the coffin is delivered to the wrong house, Michael sells the piano not knowing the strangler's body is still in it, the police are involved when the body in the piano is discovered, Masterman is revealed to be quite alive as he sits up in Julia's coffin. The cousins make off with the tontine money in the second hearse. Both hearses gallop through the park, Michael and Julia chasing Morris and John. They then encounter a real funeral procession in which Joseph is participating.

After a confusing crash, Morris and John realise they have a body instead of the money. The tontine money is about to be buried when they grab it and run off. The box bursts open and money goes around the cemetery. Joseph pops up from the grave just as Masterman arrives. The lawyer arrives to say the tontine has yet to be won. The police (Tony Hancock) arrive and say Morris is arrested. They ask who put the body in the piano as there is a £1000 reward for catching the Bournemouth Strangler. A new argument begins.


Filming locationsEdit

Pinewood Studios, Iver, Buckinghamshire, was the main production base for the studio sets and many exteriors, with the Victorian London crescent exteriors being shot on Bath's historic Royal Crescent, complete with TV aerials on the roofs. The funeral coach and horse chase was filmed in St James's Square, Bath, and on Englefield Green, Surrey, and surrounding lanes.[4]


Bosley Crowther wrote in The New York Times, "Perhaps the best of the clowning is the little bit Mr. Sellers does as this drink-sodden, absent-minded skip-jack, fumbling foolishly and a little sadly among his cats. But Mr. Richardson is splendid as a scholarly charlatan, and Mr. Mills and Mr. Lawson are capital as a couple of fuddy-duddy crooks. Sure, the whole nutty business is tumbled together haphazardly in the script that has been written—or maybe scrambled—by Larry Gelbert and Burt Shevelove. Some sections and bits are funnier than others. Some are labored and dull. It is that sort of story, that sort of comedy. But it adds up to a lively lark";[5] while more recently, Dennis Schwartz called it a "Mildly amusing silly black comedy."[6] AllMovie wrote, "By turns wacky and weird, Wrong Box is a welcome alternative to standard issue film comedies."[7]

In his autobiography What's it All About?, Michael Caine wrote of the movie's reception, that the film "is so British that it met with a gentle success in most places except Britain, where it was a terrible flop. I suppose this was because the film shows us exactly as the world sees us - as eccentric, charming and polite - but the British knew better that they were none of these things, and it embarrassed us."[3]

Awards and nominationsEdit

Year Awards Category Nominee Result
1967 British Academy Film Awards Best British Costume Julie Harris Won
Best British Actor Ralph Richardson Nominated
Best British Art Direction Ray Simm Nominated


  1. ^ a b "The Wrong Box (1966)". British Film Institute.
  2. ^ Goble, Alan (1 January 1999). The Complete Index to Literary Sources in Film. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 9783110951943 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ a b "The Wrong Box (1966) - Articles -". Turner Classic Movies.
  4. ^ "Reel Streets".
  5. ^ "The Wrong Box (1966) - Other Reviews -". Turner Classic Movies.
  6. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. "wrongbox".
  7. ^ "The Wrong Box (1966) - Bryan Forbes - Review - AllMovie". AllMovie.

External linksEdit