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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 🙂

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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!

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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/.