When it comes to the movies of either Peter Sellers or The Boulting brothers "Heavens Above!" is one of those which are not so much forgotten about but simply lesser known. And there is a simple reason why, it doesn't so much make you laugh but smile with its amusing look at various religious attitudes. From those who are just Sunday morning Christians to the naivety of a good hearted vicar whose fairness to all makes him easy pickings for those who would betray his generosity, all are satirized her. It makes "Heavens Above!" a surprisingly well balanced movie as whilst the church takes a bashing so does everyone else.
When the well to do community of Orbiston Parva required a new vicar they find themselves with The Rev. John Smallwood (Peter Sellers - The Wrong Arm of the Law) a naive but good hearted young man who has ended up there through a clerical error. But Smallwood soon unintentionally upsets the status quo in the town with his random acts of human kindness, from taking in the large scrounging family of Smith's when they are evicted from their home to his friendship with dustman Matthew Robinson (Brock Peters - Major Dundee) who he decides should sit on the church board. When Smallwood's actions start affecting business in the town the locals decide they will have to get rid of Smallwood one way or another.
One of the joys of "Heavens Above!" is that it works purely on the simplest level with lots of comedy. Right from the start you get smiles be it from Smallwood's good nature whilst working as a prison vicar which sees him tied up and his clothes removed by a con trying to escape to the prejudice gags of when he decides to put Matthew Robinson on the board of the church as not only is he a dustman but also black. It all works at the simplest of levels as you get scene after scene which combines visual with spoken humour.
But when you look beyond the simple humour of "Heavens Above!" you also get the balanced satire as no one escapes a dig or two. We have the church made fun of for not wanting to upset the apple cart, we have the locals in the community who call themselves Christians but are full of prejudice as well as a poor family who take advantage of Smallwood's innocent kindness. It makes it surprisingly well balanced as whilst the church is made fun of so is everyone else and to be honest there is a surprising amount of truth to the humour.
Of course "Heavens Above!" is a Peter Sellers movie and whilst he basically plays the role straight he still manages to be amusing through making Smallwood such a gullible good guy. But as is typical of other Boulting brothers movies he is aided by a good and familiar supporting cast which includes Brock Peters, Irene Handl and Eric Sykes.
What this all boils down to is that "Heavens Above!" isn't a laugh out loud funny movie but it never fails to make you smile as it not only satirizes the church but pretty much anyone involved in the story.