Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

How to Get Ahead in Advertising

(UK, 1989)

Richard E. Grant is a totally cynical and ruthless ad exec in London. He claims he knows how to sell anything, but for some reason a new campaign for an as-yet-unnamed pimple cream has him stymied. And then a boil appears on his shoulder. Yuck, right? But even worse, this boil has a face, and keeps growing. It begins to speak to him. He is institutionalized, but when he comes out he’s even worse. The boil begins to speak to him. (When the boil speaks, no one is ever looking at Grant’s lips, so it’s up to you to decide whether we’re just seeing his insanity as he sees it, or if the boil really does have a personality.)


While he is in the hospital waiting for the boil to be lanced, it swells up rapidly and becomes a second head, identical to the first except it has a mustache. The new head overpowers the first one, and we hear the faint wails of the original head: “You’re going to cut off the wrong head!” The new man is much more ruthless than the original. He has no trouble coming up with a campaign strategy: First, make boils cool, so a lot more people get them, and then reverse course and suddenly you have a much larger base of people eager to buy your worthless pimple cream.

I expected a happy ending, with the old head emerging from the shoulder and setting about to right wrongs, but the writer was too canny for that. The new ad man triumphs, and has plans to destroy the world by selling useless, harmful products to the ignorant masses.

It’s a brilliant satire, wildly funny most of the time, actually a little poignant here and there despite the wild premise. It was produced by George Harrison’s HandMade Films, which he started just to make the first Monty Python movie, and continued with a small number of universally high-quality and often very offbeat movies that couldn’t find a home elsewhere.