A Jolly Bad Fellow
Directed byDon Chaffey
Screenplay byRobert Hamer
Donald Taylor
Based onDon Among the Dead Men
1952 novel
by C. E. Vulliamy
Produced byDonald Taylor
StarringLeo McKern
CinematographyGerald Gibbs
Edited byPeter Tanner
Music byJohn Barry
Pax Films
Distributed byBritish Lion Films
Release date
  • 1964 (1964)
Running time
94 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

A Jolly Bad Fellow (U.S. title: They All Died Laughing; also known as Don Among the Dead Men) is a 1964 British black comedy film directed by Don Chaffey and starring Leo McKern and Janet Munro.[1][2]

In the film, a university professor advances his career through habitually poisoning his colleagues at the university.


Kerris Bowles-Ottery is professor of science at the University of Ockham. To advance his career, he poisons inconvenient colleagues with an untraceable substance he has discovered that induces hysteria and manic behaviour followed by death. His research assistant, Delia, blackmails him into a promise of marriage, but he remains attached to his wife, and poisons Delia. When the police arrive at his home to question him, he flees in his car but fatally crashes it as a result of smoking a poisoned cigarette that his wife has unknowingly brought from his laboratory.[2]



The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote: "Its awkward, old-fashioned punning title is unfortunately typical of A Jolly Bad Fellow. A Sir Michael Balcon production, with the late Robert Hamer sharing the script credit and a host of familiar character actors in the cast, it naturally arouses hopes of a renewal of the Ealing comedy tradition. But that vein has been worked out and this is the second recent British film to demonstrate that you cannot really rejuvenate an outworn formula simply by throwing in a bit of social comment and a few snide references to television. Like Nothing But the Best, A Jolly Bad Fellow is full of echoes – Genevieve, Kind Hearts, Brief Encounter, even the early films of Ralph Richardson, whose mannerisms have been inherited by Leo McKern. But the echoes only remind one how much better these things were done twenty years ago. The idea of murder as a jolly jape was pretty dated even before The Ladykillers. In the present film it is also peculiarly tasteless because it is unnecessary – the plot does not depend on the death of any of the victims. Don Chaffey's direction manages to be both flat and fussy – the business with the poisoned cigarettes being worked literally and figuratively to death – and there is an irritatingly jaunty score for "jazz organ" which makes one think wistfully of Larry Adler."[3]

In a 2017 study of Bryanston Films, Duncan Petrie writes that the film did not make "any impact either commercially or critically."[4]

The New York Times called it "nonconformist but not especially sidesplitting" although having "a deftly casual air about it as well as the polish of professionalism".[5]


  1. ^ "A Jolly Bad Fellow". British Film Institute Collections Search. Retrieved 20 April 2024.
  2. ^ a b "A Jolly Bad Fellow (1964)", British Film Institute. Retrieved 30 April 2021
  3. ^ "A Jolly Bad Fellow". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 31 (360): 74. 1 January 1964 – via ProQuest.
  4. ^ Petrie, Duncan James (2017). "Bryanston Films : An Experiment in Cooperative Independent Production and Distribution" (PDF). Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television: 12. ISSN 1465-3451.
  5. ^ "Comedy at the Coronet", The New York Times, 16 March 1964