The Wrong Box
United States VHS Cover
Directed byBryan Forbes
Written byLarry Gelbart
Burt Shevelove
Based onThe Wrong Box
by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne
Produced byBryan Forbes
Jack Rix
Larry Gelbart
Burt Shevelove
CinematographyGerry Turpin
Edited byAlan Osbiston
Music byJohn Barry
Salamander Film Productions
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release dates
  • 26 May 1966 (1966-05-26) (London, England)
Running time
107 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

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 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, Cicely Courtneidge, and Tony Hancock. Also included are 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. The Temperance Seven appear as themselves.[3][1]


In the early 19th century, a lawyer explains to a group of young boys that a form of tontine has been organised; £1,000 has been invested for each child (£20,000 in total), but only the last survivor will receive all the capital and earned interest. Sixty-three years later, elderly brothers Masterman and Joseph Finsbury, who live next to each other in Victorian London, are the last surviving members of the tontine.

Masterman is attended by his unpromising medical student grandson Michael Finsbury, and, although Masterman has not talked to his despised brother in many years, he sends Michael next door to summon Joseph to see him. Michael is greeted by Julia, Joseph's granddaughter. They see each other often on the street and secretly admire each other. She explains Joseph is in Bournemouth with her cousins. Meanwhile, Julia's cousins, Morris and John, receive a telegram from Michael in their boarding house in Bournemouth, saying that Masterman is dying.

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. Joseph goes to smoke a cigarette, leaving behind his coat, which the occupant, "the Bournemouth Strangler", dons. The train then collides with another one. Morris and John find a mangled body wearing their uncle's coat and assume their uncle is dead. To protect their interest in the tontine, they hide the body in the woods. Morris tells John to crate the body up and post it to London. Meanwhile, Joseph wanders away from the accident scene.

In London, Michael gets a telegram telling him to expect a crate containing a statue. Morris arrives and mistakes the elderly butler, Peacock, for Masterman.

Morris decides to try to hide the body long enough for Masterman to die, and 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 sends the body in a large barrel. Joseph makes his way to London on his own and visits his brother. Masterman makes several failed attempts to kill his brother, with Joseph oblivious to the attempts. They separate after quarrelling, and as he leaves the barrel containing the body is being delivered to Masterman's house by mistake, and Joseph hurriedly agrees to sign for the barrel for "Mr Finsbury". Minutes later, the crate containing the statue, also addressed to "Mr Finsbury", which Michael is expecting, is mistakenly delivered to Joseph's house and accepted by Julia who believes it is an expected delivery.

Morris, arriving at Joseph's house, sees a delivery wagon just leaving and assumes that his uncle's body has just been delivered. Morris then goes to Dr. Pratt to try to obtain a blank death certificate. Michael helps the delivery men move the crate into Joseph's house. This stirs the passions of both Julia and Michael and they kiss for the first time. Michael draws back and says they cannot do this because they are cousins; then they discover that they were both adopted orphans, thus unrelated by blood.

Michael discovers the body in the barrel and, after learning of the "altercation" between Masterman and Joseph from Peacock, assumes that his grandfather killed his brother. When Julia arrives with some broth for Masterman, Michael hides the body in a piano. That night, Michael hires "undertakers" to dump the corpse into the Thames, but when they arrive, Masterman has just fallen down the staircase, so they take his unconscious body. Seeing this, Morris gleefully assumes Masterman has died.

Morris and John go to claim the tontine, producing the fake death certificate. The lawyer tells them it is now worth £111,000.

Rescued from the river, Masterman is returned home by the Salvation Army, who assume he drowned himself. Julia orders a fancy coffin for him. Morris orders a cheap coffin to remove the mutilated body, but it is delivered to the wrong house, and Michael sells the piano, unaware the body is still in it. The police become involved when that body is discovered. Masterman sits up as the coffin is being taken away.

The cousins make off with the tontine money in a hearse. Michael and Julia chase Morris and John aboard another hearse. They then encounter a real funeral procession. 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 is blown around the cemetery. Joseph pops up from the open grave just as Masterman arrives. The lawyer arrives to say the tontine has yet to be won. The police detective arrives, and 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 locations

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, The 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 nominations

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. Archived from the original on 3 March 2017.
  2. ^ Goble, Alan (1 January 1999). The Complete Index to Literary Sources in Film. Walter de Gruyter. p. 443. ISBN 9783110951943.
  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.