The Wrong Box

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 Wrong Box
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBryan Forbes
Produced byBryan Forbes
Jack Rix
Larry Gelbart
Burt Shevelove
Written byLarry Gelbart
Burt Shevelove
Based onThe Wrong Box
by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne
Music byJohn Barry
CinematographyGerry Turpin
Edited byAlan Osbiston
Salamander Film Productions
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • 27 May 1966 (1966-05-27) (London, UK)
Running time
107 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

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, and Tony Hancock. Included in the cast are other 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. Cicely Courtneidge also appears, as Salvation Army Major Martha and The Temperance Seven also appear (as themselves).[3][1]


In Victorian London, elderly brothers Masterman (Mills) and Joseph Finsbury (Richardson), who live next to each other, are the last surviving members of a tontine, an investment scheme set up 63 years before, in which the last member stands to receive a fortune. Masterman is attended by his unpromising medical student grandson, Michael (Caine), while his greedy cousins Morris (Cook) and John (Moore), who live in Bournemouth, do their best to keep their annoying uncle Joseph alive. Masterman, who hasn't talked to his despised brother in many years, summons Joseph to his "deathbed," intending to kill him so that Michael can get the money.

On the train trip to London, Joseph escapes from his minders, entering a compartment and boring the sole occupant with a litany of trivial facts (something he does with everyone he encounters). His traveling companion later turns out to be the "Bournemouth Strangler." Joseph leaves to smoke a cigarette, leaving behind his coat, which the strangler dons. The train then collides with another one coming in the other direction. In the wreckage, Morris and John find the strangler's mangled body and mistakenly believe it is that of their uncle.

Morris decides to try to hide the body long enough for Masterman to pass away, then claim Joseph died of a heart attack upon hearing the news. Morris and John plot to ship the body to their London home. John, left behind to attend to this task, sends the body in a barrel. However, it is delivered to Masterman's house by mistake. A separate container, the "wrong" box of the title, is concurrently shipped to Masterman's house; it is a crate containing a statue that has the house number partially obscured. Joseph makes his way to London on his own and visits his brother; Masterman attempts to kill his brother a number of times, with Joseph oblivious to the attempts; they separate after quarreling. Meanwhile, Michael meets Joseph's ward, Julia Finsbury (Nanette Newman), and they fall in love.

The containers are mistakenly delivered to the wrong houses. Morris, arriving at Joseph's house in John's absence, sees a delivery wagon just leaving and assumes that his uncle's body has just been delivered. Things become complicated when Michael discovers the contents of the barrel and, after learning of the "altercation" between Masterman and Joseph from family butler Peacock (Wilfrid Lawson), assumes that his grandfather has killed his brother. Michael hides the body in a piano when Julia brings Masterman some broth. That night Michael hires unscrupulous "undertakers" to remove the strangler's body from the piano and dump it into the Thames, but Masterman falls down the staircase and they assume his is the body. Morris observes the activity and gleefully assumes Masterman has died.

Further misunderstandings and antics ensue the next day as the cousins claim that the tontine has been won, Masterman is returned home after being fished out of the river, Morris orders a coffin to remove the mutilated body he thinks is in Joseph's basement, the coffin is delivered to the wrong house, Michael sells the piano not knowing the strangler's body is still in it, the police are involved when the body in the piano is discovered, Masterman is revealed to be quite alive in the misdelivered coffin, a second coffin ordered by Michael arrives, the cousins make off with the tontine money in the second hearse, and the chase that ensues encounters a real funeral procession in which Joseph is participating.


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 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, 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
1967British Academy Film AwardsBest British CostumeJulie Harris Won
Best British ActorRalph RichardsonNominated
Best British Art DirectionRay SimmNominated


  1. "The Wrong Box (1966)". British Film Institute.
  2. Goble, Alan (1 January 1999). "The Complete Index to Literary Sources in Film". Walter de Gruyter via Google Books.
  3. "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.
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