The Battle of the Sexes (1959 film)

The Battle of the Sexes is a 1959 British black and white comedy film starring Peter Sellers and directed by Charles Crichton, based on the short story "The Catbird Seat" by James Thurber.[2] The story was adapted by Monja Danischewsky.

The Battle of the Sexes
Theatrical release poster
Directed byCharles Crichton
Produced byMonja Danischewsky
Written byMonja Danischewsky (screenplay)
from a story by James Thurber
StarringPeter Sellers
Robert Morley
Constance Cummings
CinematographyFreddie Francis
Edited bySeth Holt
Distributed byBryanston Films (UK)
Release date
  • 25 February 1960 (1960-02-25)
Running time
84 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom


A timid accountant in a Scottish Tweed weaving company (Sellers) cleverly bests the brash modern American efficiency expert (Cummings) whose ideas threaten his way of life. The film opens with Martin (Sellers) in Edinburgh buying whisky and cigarettes on the Royal Mile. We then see him at work as a head accountant in a very old-fashioned firm in the New Town. The Justerini & Brooks premises in George Street serves as their shop in the film.

Martin is called to the death-bed of the owner, old MacPherson, at Moray Place. He is offered a whisky and declines. Old MacPherson drinks both and promptly dies.

The new owner of the Tweed company, played by Robert Morley, is enamoured of a zealous American woman who is an efficiency expert and who wants to turn her hand to revolutionise the very traditional company. She insists on visiting "the factory" on the island, only to discover the task is done by old couples, on crofts where they spin the wool. She plans to replace the 700 weavers, dotted across the islands, with a single large factory. Whilst being driven through the city she even says the company should change to synthetic fibres, causing the chauffeur to drive into the back of a brewer's dray in the Grassmarket.

Martin watches a Sherlock Holmes film at the cinema and is inspired to kill Mrs Barrows. As he is a non-smoker and a non-drinker, he decides he should mislead any future investigation by smoking and drinking at the scene of the planned crime. He buys a half-bottle of whisky and packet of Capstan cigarettes. In her flat though, after a series of botched attempts his conscience gets the better of him and he cannot kill her. He tries to remove all evidence when Mr MacPherson appears suddenly, and manages to avoid detection. Back in the office MacPherson interrogates Martin and finds his denial more plausible than Mrs Barrows's claims. She cannot take any more, accusing them all of being mad, and she leaves for good. Thus Mr Martin wins his battle of the sexes.

However, seeing her crying at the station he is moved to buy her a flower. He may have won the battle, but he hasn't won the war.



Film rights to the story were owned by Hecht Hill Lancaster. Billy Wilder was signed to direct.[3] Eventually they sold the rights.

It was the first film made by the newly-formed Bryanston Films, who approved it on 13 May 1959.[4]


Box Office

The film was a minor box office hit earning Bryanston a profit of £10,894.[5]


On its 1960 release, the film was very warmly reviewed by The New York Times, with critic A. H. Weiler calling it a "gentle, tongue-in-cheek ribbing that cleaves to the spirit, if not entirely to the letter of Thurber's lampoon."[2]


  1. Petrie, Duncan James (2017). "Bryanston Films : An Experiment in Cooperative Independent Production and Distribution" (PDF). Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television: 7. ISSN 1465-3451.
  2. Weiler, A.H. (19 April 1960). "Screen: Thurber Tale: Battle of the Sexes' Is British Import". The New York Times.
  3. Notes From Coast Special to The New York Times. 4 June 1957: 38.
  4. Petrie p 5
  5. Petrie p 8
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