A British Chorus Line: A Girl Must Live (1939)


Unlike Gone With the Wind or The Wizard of Oz, A Girl Must Live is far from being 1939’s most well-known film, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth seeing. I’m reviewing this film for the Fourth Annual British Invaders Blogathon, hosted by Terrence from A Shroud of Thoughts. As I’m always willing to promote some Margaret Lockwood’s film, this certainly is for me the best occasion for me to discuss this film.


A Girl Must Live reunites Margaret Lockwood and notorious director Carol Reed for the fourth time after Midshipman Easy (1935), Who’s Your Lady Friend? (1937) and Bank Holiday (1938). The film also stars German actress Lili Palmer, Renée Houston, Hugh Sinclair, Naunton Wayne, George Robey, Mary Clare and more. The film was based on the 1937’s novel by Emery Bonnett.

Margaret Lockwood plays a young woman who aspires to become a stage star. She runs away from her finish school is Switzerland and, under the suggestion of her friends, chooses a new identity in order to increase her chances. She is now Leslie James, daughter of the famous Leslie James. In the boarding house ruled by the lively Mrs. Wallis (Mary Clare), she meets Gloria (Renée Houston) and Clytie (Lilli Palmer), two chorus girls who fight constantly and who are both attracted to wealthy men. Not long after Leslie, Gloria and Clytie manage to join a chorus line, the rich (and single) Earl of Pangborough (Hugh Sinclair) comes to town accompanied by Gloria’s cousin, Hugo Smythe (Nauton Wayne). Obviously, Gloria, and Clytie will each tempt to seduce the Earl, being more attracted by his money than by his personality. This only increases their usual rivalry. However, when the Earl meets Leslie, he seems to find her much more interesting than the two crazy blond girls (because yes, they are crazy!).

A Girl Must Live mixes drama, comedy, and music. We can really call it a musical as the moments where the girls dance and sing are rare, but it gives us a lovely preview of how Margaret Lockwood could manage to be the star of a musical. After her successes with Bank Holiday and The Lady Vanishes, it is obvious that Margaret was an increasing star (and would become UK’s most popular actress in the 40s). 1939 was a year of self-research for Margaret as she tempted to start a career in Hollywood. That was not a success and, uncomfortable in the city of angels, she preferred to go back to England and that’s where she did her best work anyway. A Girl Must Live will never be considered a “masterpiece”, but it’s much better than Susannah of the Mounties.

The comic essence of the film is established from the beginning when Margaret Lockwood escapes from the school. Martita Hunt plays the principal. She is proud, but it’s hard to take her seriously as her manners are rather amusing. After falling on her poor butt, “Leslie James” is now ready to conquer the world. This scene is also an emotional one as the young lady also has to say goodbye to her school friends, whom she will probably not see before a long time.


We never really heard Margaret singing in this film, but there’s this scene where she is part of the chorus line stage number. In her solo, she talks more than she sings, but, nevertheless, she remains lovely.

There’s also this scene where she practices her tap dance. She’s so cute and amusing. Unfortunately, the scene lasts about 10 seconds. In 1945’s, Margaret starred in Val Guest’s historical musical I’ll Be Your Sweetheart, where we could see much more of her singing. However, her singing voice was dubbed by Maudie Edwards. Despite that, both A Girl Must Live and I’ll Be Your Sweetheart proves us that Margaret could have the perfect acting skills to rock a musical. Because, let’s not forget that she was, first of all, an actress and not a singer.


Margaret Lockwood’s chemistry with Hugh Sinclair is a convincing one. I love the fact that they always meet each other in awkward situations where the poor lady is rarely properly dressed.



You want some catfights? Well, Renée Houston and Lilli Palmer will offer you plenty of that. At one point, they even fight like knights using pokers as swords. In one of their greatest battles, a man delivers flowers for one of them. The flowers come from the rich Horace Blount ( George Robey). He’s waiting outside in his car. But he hasn’t chosen a good moment for his delivery as the flowers are thrown by the window during the fight and they fall around Mr. Blount’s neck. Even if the two girls are always fighting, there also is an unhealthy chemistry between the two. Somehow, they make me think a little bit of Bette Cooper and Veronica Lodge who always fight over Archie Andrews. Their moments of peace are rare, though.

Except for the amusing story truffled with numerous gags and the colourful characters, what I always liked about A Girl Must Live are the costumes. Those are simply lovely and suit perfectly the personality of each character.

A Girl Must Live is not really Carol Reed’s most well-known film, but it is the proof that he was able to direct comedies as much as he was able to direct films noir (Odd Man Out, The Third Man), war movies (Night Train to Munich) or dramas (The Stars Look Down, Trapeze). He chose Margaret Lockwood as his fetish actress and was always able to give her roles that suited her perfectly.


If you haven’t seen A Girl Must Live yet, I highly encourage you to do so. The film has nothing to envy to Busby Berkeley’s musicals of the 30s, but it’s a great entertainment and will only increase your knowledge of classic British films.

And here is a link for you to watch it. 🙂


A big thanks to Terence for hosting this always fun blogathon. Don’t forget to check the other entries!

The Fourth Annual British Invaders Blogathon

See you!



Irish Film Studies: Odd Man Out

This semester, I’m attending a course on Irish cinema. Each week, we are expected to write a blog-like journal about the film we watched in class and/or our class discussion about the film. I’ve decided to include those entries to my blog, so it would be more agreeable to read than a Word document. This was my journal entry on The Third Man (week 3)


Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out was on my long “to watch” list since I read a review of it written by one of my fellow bloggers. Film noir + James Mason + Carol Reed = what seemed to be for me a perfect combination. And it was! I didn’t remember the film was taking place in Northern Ireland, but I guess it was a good thing as it finally created a context (this course) for me to watch it.

To visualize some clips from The Third Man (with Joseph Cotten – I LOVE this actor) was quite relevant as an “introduction” to Odd Man Out. Personally, this brought back good memories of when I was in Vienna with my friend this summer: when we visited Prater (where there is the famous big wheel) and when we spent an afternoon with a friend of mine, Paul Henreid’s grandson, who showed us the famous “Third Man door” where, if my memory doesn’t fail me, Harry Lime makes his first appearance.

Me, in front of the famous door!

But, aside from bringing back good memories, watching the clips allowed us to make a great comparison with the cinematography of this film and Odd Man Out’s one. Being two noirs, I believed this element is the one that is the most similar from one film to another. For example, the night scenes of a city, showed with a lot of contrasts and shadows, wet streets and dark corners, seem to be recurrent in both films, as well as in film noir in general. In both films there is this mysterious and oppressing ambiance created by all this darkness and complex characters as well.

It’s interesting, because each time I watch a Carol Reed’s film, I can feel I am watching a Carol Reed’s film, even if some of them are very different. For example, my favourite one, A Girl Must Live, a comedy starring Carol Reed’s fetish actress, Margaret Lockwood, obviously has nothing to do with Odd Man Out, but somehow there is something in both films that tells me that it is a Carol Reed’s film. What it is? I can’t quite say. Is it due to the fact that they are British films? Because those are so different from American films, especially classic British films. I don’t know. Of course, it’s easier to do the comparison between Odd Man Out and The Third Man, as they are both film noirs.

Margaret Lockwood, Renée Houston and Lilli Palmer in A Girl Must Live (1939)

Odd Man Out is not about the green Ireland that we saw in the following movie: The Quiet Man, but this is indeed a way to show us different aspects of Ireland’s life. While James Mason was not an Irish actor, I believe he did an interesting and convincing job. The co-actress, Kathleen Ryan (who was Irish), made me think so much of Patricia Roc, whom I could have perfectly imagined in this role as well (although she was British). The two makes a sad pair and perhaps represent the most tragic aspects of the film, the failure of the man character. Of course, there are many more to discuss about Odd Man Out, but I’ll stop here for the moment.



Words: 521

Images sources:

“A Girl Must Live.” Silver Sirens, n.d, https://www.silversirens.co.uk/films/girl-must-live-1939/.

“Carol Reed’s Coded IRA Drama Odd Man Out Has the Look but not the Feel of Noir.” A.V. Club, Apr. 15, 2015, http://www.avclub.com/review/carol-reeds-coded-ira-drama-odd-man-out-has-look-n-217923

“Happy St. Pat’s! ‘Odd Man Out’ by Carol Reed Is a Great Irish Drama and a Great Thriller.” Film Noir Blonde, Mar. 15, 2016, http://www.filmnoirblonde.com/happy-st-pats-odd-man-out-by-carol-reed-is-a-great-irish-drama-and-a-great-thriller/.

“Odd Man Out.” Film Forum, n.d, http://filmforum.org/film/odd-man-out-reed-trilogy.

“The Third Man, 1949.” Little White Lies, Jun. 25, 2015, http://lwlies.com/reviews/third-man-1949/.


Life is a Circus in Trapeze


It all started with Strauss’s The Beautiful Blue Danube… and a fatal plunge…

Trapeze is one of those movies made to hold your breath, to be at the edge of your seat and contempt the colourful world of the impressive circus. I’m writing on this film today for the At the Circus Blogathon hosted by Letícia from Crítica Retrô and Summer from Serendipitous Anachronism.


I don’t do this often, but, as I haven’t seen many circus movies, I chose to review one I had never seen. But I knew Trapeze could only be a winner for me because:

1- It stars Burt Lancaster, my 5th favourite actor.

2- It stars Tony Curtis, an actor I’m appreciating more and more.

3- Seeing more Gina Lollobrigida movies is ok for me! Same for Katy Jurado (who is part of the last movie I reviewed: High Noon. I like the coincidence)

4- When I realized it was directed by Carol Reed, it grabbed my attention even more. Actually, if I’m not wrong, I think it’s the first American movie directed by Carol Reed that I see.

My verdict: not disappointed. Not one minute!


A 1956’s Cinemascope film, Trapeze is an adaptation of the novel The Killing Frost by Max Catto. It won the Silver Bear for Best Actor (Burt Lancaster) and the Public Prize at the 6th Berlin International Film Festival, and Carol Reed received a nomination for Best Director at the Directors Guild of America.

The action takes place at the Bouglione Circus in Paris, trapeze artist Tino Orsini (Tony Curtis) has just arrived in town to meet the great Mike Ribble (Burt Lancaster), whom, he believes, is the only one who can teach him how to do a dangerous triple somersault. Ribble is first not interested in working with him. Years before, he got badly injured precisely doing a triple somersault that failed. He since has to walk with a stick. But Riddle admits to his friend Rosa (Katy Jurado) that Orsini has talent. He finally accepts to create an act with him and to teach him the triple. Things go fine and the two men work well together until Lola (Gina Lollobrigida) imposes herself to be part of the act. Bouglione ( Thomas Gomez) put pressures on all of them, believing the important thing for his circus is the money and the public, not so much the quality of the acts. Then starts a series of manipulations and the formation of an inevitable love triangle.

I remember I was once having a conversation with my grandfather about old actors and he asked me if I liked Burt Lancaster. Of course! And then he wanted to know if I had seen Trapeze. But I had not. I think it’s not long after that Summer and Letícia announced their blogathon, so I thought it was the perfect occasion to see it!


Burt Lancaster couldn’t have been better cast as Mike Riddle. You might know that, before breaking into movies, Mr. Lancaster first worked as an acrobat in the circus world. That’s where he met his longtime friend Nick Cravat. Unfortunately, after having been badly injured, Lancaster had to renounce to the circus life. After having served in the army, he became a movie star. His first movie was The Killers.

Burt the acrobat!

Burt Lancaster has always been athletic. Except for performing acrobatics in a circus, he also practiced Basket Ball, athletics, and gymnastic. Lancaster didn’t hesitate to use his skills and what he had learned from the circus in movies such as The Flame and the Arrow, The Crimson Pirate and, of course, Trapeze. Lancaster was a performer on many levels.

Interestingly enough, I even read that Lancaster used to ask for a high bar set up on sets and locations so he could perform acrobatics and stay in shape. (IMDB) Well, we all have noticed what a great body he had!

From The Rose Tattoo

So, Burt was meant to play in Trapeze. Because of his experience, the actor could perform all his trapeze stunts by himself. The only part that is not performed by Lancaster himself is this famous triple somersault. Lancaster first wanted to do it, but technical adviser Eddie Ward thought it would be best for him to double him for the dangerous stunts. Ward was eventually replaced by Nick Cravat for the final stunt. Well, even if we don’t see Burt doing the famous triple somersault, we still can see him performing as an acrobat and that’s a delight.

Burt doesn’t only impress with his athleticism, but also for his performance. As always, he is full of charisma and dynamism. He transmits his intention in many ways. On that trapeze, but also on the ground when, with his majestical face and his impressive manners.


Trapeze certainly was Burt’s film (he also produced it), but Tony Curtis is a revelation too. Unlike Burt Lancaster, this one hadn’t worked in a circus before, but he had the stature to be convincing in the role. We also have to remember that this is not only a circus show, but also a movie with a story. Curtis was believable and I have to say I much enjoyed his performance.


Gina Lollobrigida didn’t impress me much. She was beautiful, of course. She was ok, but I was more mesmerized by Katy Jurado’s acting. If Lollobrigida is a bit plain, Jurado gives a touching performance and can easily be a favourite. Yes, she has the beautiful role, but that’s not the point. The fact that Lollobrigida’s acting wasn’t wonderful enough created a sort of ambiguity and, to be honest, I can really say what I think of her character, precisely because of that. Sadly, the stunt woman for Gina Lollobrigida died after an accident on the set.


We also have to give credit to Johnny Puleo, who plays Max. He is one of those supporting actors that is just so fun to watch. He adds a little something to the film and is nothing but appreciable.



Trapeze is a movie I liked, not necessarily for the story. On this subject, I really enjoyed the first part involving Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis preparing their duo. But as soon as Gina Lollobrigida gets involved, things were a bit spoiled. That love triangle surely adds a plot element to the story. But it’s not what we like most about the movie. It’s this kind of love triangle that is here for no real reasons except entertain us a bit. That creates another problem for the film, a little hic. We can’t deny that Trapeze is a bit misogynist. I mean, all the problems seem to be created by the women. Why? Are they so dangerous? Even Rosa (Katy Jurado), a good and humble person, is accused of being the cause of a horse’s death. Luckily, Lollobrigida’s character evolves for the best and she sorts of become a more sensible person at the end.

No, Trapeze, except for Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis’s brilliant performances, impresses for its visual dimension. I mean, a circus movie has to be that way. First, it’s so colourful. I think that seeing this movie on the big screen would be an unforgettable experience. It’s a majestic rainbow that simply makes you want to go to the circus. To this colour is added the traditional circus music and we became part of the public. The camera angles were also brilliantly chosen and allowed us to have different views on the trapeze artists. The wide shot and the great wide shots allow us to have a great ensemble view on the performers, see their pirouettes and their teamwork. While the closer shots allow us to see important details such as Burt Lancaster and Gina Lollobirgida’s kiss in the hair or Burt Lancaster’s hands dropping the hands of his partner and causing his fatal plunge. The mix of low and high angles is also well welcomed and adds even more dynamism to the film. I have to see, the editing and the cinematography are among the most brilliant elements of Trapeze.


Trapeze remains a very authentic film for the reason that it was shot on location. Well, somehow. It takes place in Paris and it was filmed in Paris. We don’t see the Eiffel Tower or the Arch of Triumph, but the artistic life of the city, the more underground part of it. But one thing is sure, Paris is lovely everywhere. The exterior scenes were filmed at the Cirque d’Hiver, which real life proprietor was Joseph Bouglione. The interior scenes were filmed at the Studios de Billancourt (Hauts-de-Seine). The studios are not at the center of Paris, but not so far from it.

The Cirque d’Hiver in Paris


Finally, what makes this film a perfect circus movie is the fact that the world of the circus is omnipresent. I mean, people are performing all the time! I love this moment when Tony Curtis follows Burt Lancaster (who is not one bit interested in him) and wants to show him what he can do. He starts doing acrobatics around him in the street and that makes him just so lovable. Then, when Lancaster finally agrees to speak to him, he starts walking on his hands. Lancaster joins him and then, there those two men discussing business while walking on their hands as if it was something perfectly normal! Of course, we all do that in real life hahaha! But this adds a very appreciable comic side to the movie.



Trapeze is one of those movies that makes you want to go to the circus. Just like when I go to the real life circus, I was very stressed for the performers when I was watching the film and hoped for nothing bad to happen to them. It might not be perfect on the narrative level, but for its main composition, it’s a film that remains highly entertaining. Anyway, I greatly enjoyed it and it fulfilled my expectations in a good way.

I want to thank Critica Retrô and Serendipitous Anachronism for hosting this colourful blogathon! Talking about circus movie certainly was something I’m sure not many people had thought of and it was a most rewarding experience! It even gave me an idea for next’s year subject, if the blogathon is hosted again!

Don’t forget to take a look at the other entries:

At the Circus Blogathon

See you!