Star Archive

Marcel Varnel (1894 - 1947)

Low comedy is a very National thing. Foreign audiences struggle to get the joke when presented with Will Hay, George Formby, Arthur Askey or the Crazy Gang in the same way that we look on with incomprehension at the films of Judy Canova or Fernandel. However, many of the best films of Hay, Formby etc weren't entirely British. They were directed by a Frenchman - Marcel Varnel.   

He began as an actor on the Paris stage and moved into directing musical comedies. In 1925 he moved to Broadway and got a reputation as a director of operettas. Hollywood called and he made a few undistinguished films there. He moved to England which was crying out for competent directors. He quickly established himself as a musical comedy director, bringing out the best in such stars as Clifford Mollison, Gene Gerrard and Dolly Haas.  

It was his collaboration with Will Hay that produced his best work. From Good Morning, Boys onwards they produced some sublime comedy. Varnel could orchestrate the sort of chaotic environment that Hay's humour thrived in.

He was also able to negotiate thorough the minefield that was The Crazy Gang - directing four of their five films: making sure that each of the double acts had equal screen time, avoiding close-ups to prevent jealousy, and still making great screen entertainment. 

He also made nine George Formby films (six in a row from Much Too Shy). This might have been too much of a strain since the films mark Formby's decline as a Cinema star. With Varnel's last film This Man Is Mine he broke free of the Formby straightjacket and was set to make the period comedy The First Gentleman when he was killed in a car crash.

Marcel Varnel's comedies are the standard by which every British Comedy is judged. If he had only made Oh, Mr Porter! his place in cinema history would be secure, but he made a whole lot more. His early death was a loss. 

Still from Oh, Mr Porter!Still from Alf's Button AfloatMarcel Varnel on the set of Hey! Hey! USA!Still from Gasbags


1932 Chandu the Magician (U.S.)
1932 The Silent Witness (U.S.)
1933 Infernal Machine (U.S.)
1934 Freedom of the Seas
1934 Girls Will Be Boys
1935 Dance Band
1935 I Give My Heart
1935 No Monkey Business
1936 All In
1936 Public Nuisance No. 1
1936 Good Morning, Boys
1937 Okay for Sound
1937 Oh! Mr Porter
1938 Convict 99
1938 Alf's Button Afloat
1938 Hey! Hey! USA
1938 Old Bones of the River
1939 Ask a Policeman
1939 Band Waggon
1939 The Frozen Limits
1939 Where's That Fire?
1940 Gasbags
1940 Neutral Port
1940 Let George Do It
1941 Hi, Gang!
1941 I Thank You
1942 Turned Out Nice Again
1941 The Ghost of St Michael's
1941 South American George
1942 King Arthur Was a Gentleman
1942 Much Too Shy
1943 Get Cracking
1943 Bell-Bottom George
1944 He Snoops to Conquer
1945 I Didn't Do It
1946 George in Civvy Street
1946 This Man is Mine

 Marcel Varnel at Amazon UK

 Marcel Varnel at Amazon US