Follow TV Tropes


Film / A Jolly Bad Fellow

Go To

A Jolly Bad Fellow (a.k.a. They all Died Laughing) is a 1964 British Black Comedy film directed by Don Chaffey. It stars Leo McKern and Janet Munro.

Professor Kerris Bowles-Ottery (McKern) is the only Senior Common Room scientist at Ockham, a university in the Oxbridge tradition. He is also a humanist and a TV personality with a zest for living at odds with his colleagues. He aspires to the John Aubrey professorship for which an election is taking place. In a lab experiment he accidentally discovers a new poison which induces hysterical behaviour before causing death without leaving any trace. Bowles-Ottery uses this to eliminate his opponents. His research assistant Delia Brooks (Munro), who has seduced him, now blackmails him into a promise of marriage.

Jolly Bad Tropes:

  • And Now You Must Marry Me: Delia attempts to blackmail Professor Bowles-Ottery into marrying her by threatening to go to the police with information about his murders. She fails to consider the most likely outcome of attempting to blackmail a poisoner.
  • Bawdy Song: After being drugged by Professor Bowles-Ottery, Dr. Brass is arrested while dancing drunkenly through a graveyard without his trousers and singing a risqué song. Only the last few lines are actually heard, so there is nothing too objectionable, but the style of song is unmistakable.
  • Black Comedy: A comedy about a university professor who advances his career by poisoning inconvenient colleagues with an untraceable substance he has discovered that induces hysteria and manic behaviour followed by death.
  • Blackmail Backfire: Delia attempts to blackmail Bowles-Otterly into marrying her. Attempting to blackmail a poisoner proves to be a very bad idea.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Dr. Brass may be a small-minded, overly officious bureaucrat, and Mrs Pugh-Smith is a vindictive, hypocritical gossipy hen, but neither of them deserved to be poisoned. And Dr. Hughes is pompous, but his greatest sin was being Bowles-Otterly's academic rival.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The title refers to Professor Bowles-Ottery as a bad person, but also a 'fellow' of the college. This may explain why the film was realeased in the US as They All Died Laughing as the academic position of fellow does not exist in America.
  • Dress Hits Floor: After demanding that Bowles-Otterly marry her, Delia slides off her peignoir before leading him to bed. The camera follows it as it slides down her naked back and pools on the floor at her feet.
  • Evilutionary Biologist: Professor Bowles-Otterly is a Social Darwinist who advocates the removal of those he considers useless to society. However, he veers into Evilutionary Biologist territory when he also advocates the euthanasia of the insane, the physically deformed, the mentally deficient, etc.
  • The Film of the Book: Based on the 1952 novel Don Among the Dead Men by C. E. Vulliamy.
  • Finger-Licking Poison: Bowles-Otterly murders Dr. Hughes by coating the tip of his pencil in poison, as Hughes habitually licks the tip of his pencil before writing.
  • Gossipy Hens: Mrs Pugh-Smith is the chief gossip in the small, incestuous university town of Ockham. When she spreads rumours about Professor Bowles-Otterly's affair with a student, Bowles-Otterly decides to put his Social Darwinist beliefs into action and removes her from university life permanently.
  • Hero Stole My Bike: Not exactly the hero, but when the Laughing Mad Bowles-Otterly tries to escape the police at the end of the movie, he jumps into a sports car that is conveniently parked just outside his house with the engine running.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: After Bowles-Otterly murders Delia with a poisoned cigarette, the police accuse him of the crime. He lights up a cigarette from the cigarette box in the sitting room, and points out that they have no evidence. It is only after he has taken a couple of puffs that he remembers that the cigarette box had been empty. When he asks his newly returned wife about it, she says that she saw the box was empty and refilled it with the cigarettes she found in his laboratory. With a look of horror, he realises that he is smoking one of his own poisoned cigarettes.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Mrs Pugh-Smith spreads a rumour that Clarinda Bowles-Otterly is a secret drinker, when she is the one who keeps a bottle of gin in her purse, and adds a slug to almost everything she drinks.
  • Laughing Mad: Bowles-Ottery lights a cigarette while talking to the police. He suddenly starts laughing at nothing at all. Knowing that euphoria is one of the first symptoms of his Perfect Poison, he realises that is smoking one his own poisoned cigarettes. At this, his mind seems to snap and he starts laughing insanely and continues to do so until he perishes in a car crash while fleeing the police.
  • Market-Based Title: Released in the US as They All Died Laughing.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Professor Bowles-Ottery is a Social Darwinist who, upon accidentally discovering a Perfect Poison, decides to deal with anyone he finds a nuisance or who stands in way by killing them.
  • Perfect Poison: Professor Bowles-Otterly develops a poison that is undetectable in a conventional autopsy and makes it appear that the victim has died of natural causes. Its only symptom is that induces intoxication and euphoria in its victims before it kills them. He uses it to eliminate those he considers useless to society.
  • Ready For Love Making: Oddly, Delia dresses like this and reclines on the bed while telephoning Bowles-Ottery at the television studio. It is very obvious what is on her mind.
  • Running Gag: Professor Bowles-Ottery's recurring visits to the florist to purchase a wreath for his latest victim. The final scene of the film is the bursar visiting the florist to purchase a wreath for Professor Bowles-Ottery.
  • The Social Darwinist: Professor Bowles-Otterly advocates the death penalty for those he considers useless to society, such as gossips, petty bureaucrats, etc. Once he develops a Perfect Poison, he starts putting his beliefs into action.
  • Super Window Jump: Bowles-Otterly escapes from the police by throwing himself backwards through the French windows without opening them first. Of course, he has just gone Laughing Mad so he probably doesn't care about any potential injuries.
  • Tainted Tobacco: Professor Bowles-Ottery murders Delia by replacing her cigarettes with ones treated with his Perfect Poison. He is later Hoist by His Own Petard when his wife refills the cigarette box in the sitting room with cigarettes from his laboratory, not knowing they are poisoned.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Bowles-Otterly poisons his first two victims by by slipping the poison into their drinks: giving Dr. Brass a glass of laced claret, and dosing Mrs Pugh-Smith's gin-spiked water.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Delia Brookes sets out to seduce Professor Bowles-Otterly and succeeds. she later tries to blackmail him into marrying her.
  • Undignified Death: Prof. Bowles-Ottery advances his career by poisoning inconvenient colleagues with an untraceable substance he has discovered that induces hysteria and manic behaviour followed by death. Not only do his victims die, but their bizarre behaviour immediately before their deaths completely destroys their reputations.
  • Unsuspectingly Soused: Bowles-Otterly's Perfect Poison causes intoxication and euphoria in its victims before it kills them. As a result, his victims act uproariously drunk before keeling over dead.
  • Villain Protagonist: The central character is Professor Kerris Bowles-Otterly who embarks upon a campaign of poisoning everyone who annoys him or stands in his way.