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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Margaret Lockwood Centennial: Tribute to a most Extraordinary British Star

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Margaret Lockwood. What could I first say about this actress? I love her so much, I honestly don’t know where to start. I’ve waited for this moment for so long. Oh sure, I could have written about my love and admiration for her before, but isn’t there a much perfect occasion than her centennial? Sadly, Margaret is no longer with us anymore, but that’s not a reason not to honour her.

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I first have to precise that I’m writing this article for the Margaret Lockwood Centennial blogathon hosted by my friend Terence from A Shroud of Thoughts. I was so impatient for this blogathon to start and, so far, I’m not disappointed. It’s so wonderful to read all those pieces about Margaret’s films. And two on Give Us the Moon! That’s dream for me! I certainly hope this blogathon will allow Margaret to become more famous around this place of movie bloggers. For one thing, I assume it will allow people to discover her and her films by reading all those entertaining entries:

The Margaret Lockwood Centennial Blogathon

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I want this hat and this bathing suit

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I once promised myself that I should see ALL Margaret Lockwood’s films before the venue of this event. Unfortunately, I’ve failed to keep my promise. The main reason is that not all her films are available, and it’s also a matter of time. But, for the moment, I’ve seen 18 of them. Not so bad for a start, no? I’m always in the mood to watch a Margaret Lockwood’s film.

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Anyway, let’s get back to Margaret herself. Like most people, I’ve first discovered her by watching Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. Along with The Wicked Lady, this one remains her most iconic film. I really knew nothing about her at the time, but enjoyed her onscreen presence. Of course, I was curious to see more of her work. So, I then watched Night Train to Munich and The Stars Look Down, both directed by Carol Reed. Why those two? I chose Night Train as it is often compared to The Lady Vanishes. And I chose The Stars Look Down as it also stars Michael Redgrave and I loved his pairing with Margaret in the Hitchcock’s film. Unfortunately, I couldn’t fully appreciate those films and for a silly reason. When I watched them, it was on YouTube (with no subtitles) and, at the time, my English wasn’t as good as it is today, so I couldn’t understand everything. Of course, I was able to see Margaret was a gifted actress, but it’s a big disappointment when you don’t understand what’s going on when you watch a film. Since then, I’ve seen Night Train to Munich again, and now it’s one of my favourite films of hers.

So, after having explored those three films, I’ve spent a long time not thinking too much about her films. But, one night, I was curious again and felt like watching more. So, I did my little research and dug two of her films on YouTube that appealed me: The Man in Grey and Madness of the Heart. And you know what? I loved them and understood everything. I think it’s from this moment that I decided that I should see all Margaret Lockwood’s films and that she was a favourite of mine.

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But all I was just saying is a bit boring, no? You are here to know why my admiration for Margaret is so big. As I’ve said before, I really don’t know where to start. Well, I could say that one of the things that first impress me about Margaret is how she was capable of playing many different kinds of roles. She’s simply one of the most versatile actresses I know. She could do everything! Margaret could be a helpful and caring young woman in Bank Holiday or The Lady Vanishes or the meanest of the wicked ones in The Wicked Lady or The Man in Grey. And who said she couldn’t play comedy?! Better safe your breath with me because I will win this case if you disagree with me. Look at Give Us the Moon. She makes me laugh so much in this film.

Talking about laugh, I love Margaret’s laugh. If Peter O’Toole has my favourite voice, Margaret has my favourite laugh (yes, British actors have a special place in my heart). Whatever if it is faked or not, it’s a laugh that simply makes me smile. It’s like a little crystalline melody. And that matches her gorgeous smile and her lovely look perfectly.

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This picture just makes me want to say “Youpi”!

Because yes, we can’t deny the fact that Margaret was one of the most beautiful women to ever grace the screen. With her big eyes, her dark hair and her perfect smile, she certainly could be envied. I (and I’m not the only one) always thought she looked so much like Joan Bennett (the brunette Joan Bennett). And the nice thing about this is that, when Margaret was in Hollywood, she and the American actress became good friends!

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Margaret and Joan Bennett saluting the Queen mother. I THINK Joan is the one who stands up.

Fortunately, Margaret wasn’t only beautiful, but also talented. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have been a favourite of mine.

If you ask me my advice on what would be her best performance, I couldn’t possibly say. She was fantastic in everything and it’s quite hard to compare her performance in The Wicked Lady with her performance in A Girl Must Live as they are so different. I don’t say that all Margaret Lockwood’s films themselves are necessarily great, but just like Katharine Hepburn, Margaret made at least one interesting thing to look at in those less good movies: their leading actress. But, I must say that she did some of her best works under the direction of Carol Reed (Bank Holiday, The Stars Look Down, A Girl Must Live, Night Train to Munich, Girl in the News).

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Margaret and her Daily Mail National Film Award

Apart from her smile, Margaret often does little on-screen things that just makes her adorable. I can think of this moment when she practices tap dancing in A Girl Must Live or when she does exercises to stay awake in The Lady Vanishes.

If we explore her more wicked characters, Margaret represented the independent woman who fought for her ideals. Barbara Skelton can’t be a model for her crimes, but she can be one for her seek of independence.

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What also always impress me with Margaret is how she always had such a good on-screen chemistry with the other actors. Her duo in The Lady Vanishes with Michael Redgrave is pretty perfect no? It personally is one of my favourite on-screen duos. And Margaret Lockwood always did a marvellous evil pair with James Mason. She wasn’t necessarily the best of friends with Michael Redgrave, but it’s honestly hard to believe.

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Now that I’ve spoken about Margaret the actress, this now leads me to Margaret the woman. I must admit, before reading Lyndsy Spence’s marvellous book Margaret Lockwood: Queen of the Silver Screen, I was a bit scared to know more about her private life. Scared to be disappointed by her. Because we know that some marvellous actors and actresses weren’t necessarily recommendable persons. But, with Margaret, it simply was the opposite. Not only she charmed me as a person, but I could somehow identify myself with her, particularly when I was reading about her childhood. Just like me, Margaret was a shy kid, but she managed to express herself through the world of theatre. I never really did professional theatre like her. But when I was in High School, theatre was one of the classes I excelled the most at. I’ve never been very good at talking person to person, but I’ve always felt comfortable doing oral presentations and talking in front of an audience or a camera.

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On stage with John Mills

Margaret also was an actress because she wanted to be an actress. She didn’t do it for the money, but because she loved it. Of course, the acting career isn’t always a simple one, but Margaret was a strong woman. She also was a loving mother. That makes me think, her only daughter, Julia Lockwood also became an actress. She stars in one of my favourite British comedies: Please, Turn Over. Just like her mother, she has a lovely voice, stunning eyes and she’s talented.

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Mother and daughter

I was also surprised to read how Margaret Lockwood was popular and appreciated in the United Kingdom. She certainly was the queen of the Silver Screen in the 40s. I know many people who unfortunately don’t know her, but I hope this article will convince them to watch her films (other than The Lady Vanishes) and discover her.

Anyway, Lyndsy Spence’s book certainly is a wonderful biography and I highly recommend you to read it.

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Before writing this tribute, I had the chance to honour Margaret by creating a Facebook group dedicated to her and by editing a little video tribute that I hope you’ll enjoy:

Before leaving you, I should give you a little top 10 of my favourite Margaret Lockwood’s films:

1- The Lady Vanishes (the first one I saw and I think it will always remain my favourite)

2- Give Us the Moon

3- A Girl Must Live

4- Night Train to Munich

5- Highly Dangerous

6- The Wicked Lady

7- The Man in Grey

8- Bank Holiday

9- Madness of the Heart

10- Bedelia

I know, Cast a Dark Shadow, that is often considered among her best films, isn’t on the list, but it’s simply because I didn’t get the chance to see it yet. But I’m dying to see it. One day I will manage to find a way to do so!

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Well, thanks again to Terence for hosting such a worthy blogathon, and to you, Margaret, I wish you the loveliest heavenly 100th birthday ❤

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