The Rake's Progress (film)

The Rake's Progress is a 1945 British comedy-drama film.[2] In the United States, the title was changed to Notorious Gentleman.[3] The film caused controversy with U.S. censors of the time, who trimmed scenes for what was considered graphic amoral and sexual content.[3]

The Rake's Progress
British trade ad
Directed bySidney Gilliat
Produced byFrank Launder
Sidney Gilliat
Written byFrank Launder
Sidney Gilliat
Val Valentine (story)
StarringRex Harrison
Lilli Palmer
Music byWilliam Alwyn
CinematographyWilkie Cooper
Edited byThelma Connell
Distributed byEagle-Lion Distributors
Release date
6 December 1945 (London premiere)
Running time
120 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box officeover $1 million (US rentals)[1]


The plot follows the career of upper-class cad Vivian Kenway (Rex Harrison). He is sent down from Oxford University for placing a chamber pot on the Martyrs' Memorial. Sent to South America after his father pulls a favour from a friend, he is fired for heckling the managing director while drunk.

A friend offers him a job, but he responds by seducing his wife and is found out. His jobs deteriorate, from a racing driver to a shop assistant to a dancing partner. He lives a life of womanising and heavy drinking and constantly runs up large debts, which his family has to pay. One girl tries to kill herself. Driving while drunk and taking risks, he crashes and causes the death of his father, Colonel Kenway (Godfrey Tearle). Kenway is eaten up by guilt in consequence. Another girl tries to rescue him.

The plot diverges from the theme of the Rake's Progress paintings by having him redeem himself by a hero's death in World War II.


Critical reception

The New York Times described the film as "an oddly deceptive affair which taxes precise classification. It plays like a comedy-romance, but all the way through it keeps switching with brutal abruptness to the sharpest irony...As a consequence, a curious unevenness of emphasis and mood prevails, and initial sympathy with the hero is frequently and painfully upset";[4] while more recently, TV Guide wrote, "the film is filled with wit and style. It does not treat its unattractive subject with sympathy, yet remains sensitive and touching."[5]


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