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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Highly Dangerous: The Good Frances Gray

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First time I saw Highly Dangerous, I remember really enjoying it. I had to find another good occasion to watch it again, and The Movie Scientist Blogathon seemed to be the one. Hosted by Ruth from Silver Screening and Christina Wehner, this event starts today on February 19, 2016 and will end on February 21, 2016. It’s the occasion for us to talk about a movie scientist. The blogathon has three different scientist categories: the good, the mad and the lonely. Of course, my choice was the good, by choosing Frances Gray (Margaret Lockwood) from Highly Dangerous.

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Highly Dangerous, directed by Roy Ward Baker in 1950, is one of the most thrilling British Films I ever saw (please don’t read the silly review on IMDB…). Before exploring its main character, let see what the story is briefly about:

Margaret Lockwood is Frances Gray, a brilliant entomologist (scientist who studies insect) who is approached for a dangerous mission. The British Intelligence has reasons to believe that a country from the Iron Curtain is about to use insects has a biological weapon against their enemies (don’t forget, we’re in time of cold war). Frances is asked to go to this Balkan country to collect some of the specimens. This is of course a “highly dangerous” mission. After few hesitations, Frances finally accepts has she feels the future of humanity is in her hands. She goes there under a false name: Frances Conway and has to pretend she’s there to study tourism business. After her colleague is killed, she meets an American journalist, Bill Casey (Dane Clark) who will help her.

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What I especially love about this film is that our hero, the scientist, is a woman. Unfortunately, it was rare in classic films. Yes, there were female scientists, but not as much as men. Or, if a woman had a role in a science-fiction film, it was mainly a victim, or the scientist daughter, or something like this. But here, our hero is a beautiful, courageous and bright lady who makes us all proud to be women. Ok, my objective here is not to write a feminist article, but I consider it quite important to be mentioned. However, I don’t think we can really say Highly Dangerous is a science-fiction film. Yes, the heroin is a scientist, but this film is more a thriller or an action movie. Because indeed, all movies with a scientist aren’t necessarily science-fiction films.

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Frances Gray is just a fantastic woman. She’s the opposite of a victim. What I love about her is that she is really annoyed by men who think insects are disgusting. Most of the time it’s the opposite and women are the ones afraid of insects (we all have this image of a lady screaming when she sees a spider or a mouse or whatever). Even when she’s a victim of the circumstances, she manages to get out of it the best she can. We can think of this scene when she’s interrogated by the police who suspects she’s a spy. She is blinded by the very bright lights that are open in her direction and then she receives a drug to be more docile and answers the questions. Fortunately, this doesn’t really work and she still reveals nothing.

Despite this moment of suffering, she doesn’t give up and continues her mission. It’s fascinating to see her work, the decisions she takes, how she handles the insects. It almost makes us want to be an entomologist. Her pairing with Bill Casey also adds an interesting dimension to the film. Among the two, she’s the brain, and he’s the curious one. Two essential ingredients in such a mission.

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Frances Gray, whatever the danger is, is never ready to give up. Even when Bill Casey asks her to, even when she’s arrested by the police. She came to the Balkans to do a mission for her country and is ready to accomplish it from A to Z. She has all the reasons to be a hero.

This lady scientist was portrayed by Margaret Lockwood, one of my very favourite actresses. This turned out to be my third favourite film of hers (after The Lady Vanishes and Give Us the Moon). It was her first film after a long absence from the screen. One more time, she had the occasion to prove us how a versatile actress she was. Margaret Lockwood could be bad (The Wicked Lady, The Man in Grey), good (The Lady Vanishes, Bank Holiday, Highly Dangerous), funny ( Give Us the Moon), a victim (Madness of the Heart), etc.

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Her acting in Highly Dangerous is fascinating. She’s very natural and doesn’t exaggerate her emotions too much. The interrogation scene must have been a hard one to do and she manages to give us a great result. There’s even is a touch of humour in her character and in the film itself, which is highly appreciated.

I know Highly Dangerous is not a very well know film. I recommend you to see it as soon as possible, hoping my post convinced you to do so. And guess what? You can watch it on YouTube! You won’t be disappointed!

To read more about good, mad or lonely scientists, I invite you to take a look at the other entries:

The Movie Scientist Blogathon

One more time, a big thanks to Silver Screening and Christina Wehner for hosting such a fun blogathon!

Criterion Blogathon: Three Wicked Melodramas

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Starting in 1943 with The Man in Grey, Gainsborough Melodramas were box office hits at the British Box office during the 40’s. They were produced by  Gainsborough Pictures, a British film Society that doesn’t exist anymore. The most successful one was The Wicked Lady. Among them, we can also find Fanny by Gaslight, Madonna of the Seven Moons, Jassy, Love Story, etc. These films are unfortunately not very popular these days, especially outside England, probably due to the fact that they were successful in the UK, but not necessarily in other countries. Fortunately, people who love classic British films like me might have the chance to discover these unique films.

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Today, I’m participating to the Criterion Blogathon, gracefully hosted by Criterion BluesSpeakeasy and Silver Screening. Criterion has a brand named Eclipse. This one was created to allow us to have access to films that were harder to find. Just like The Criterion Collection, the Eclipse Collection allows us to visualize DVDs of superior quality, but these ones are more affordable. I might be wrong, but I think that all Eclipse DVDs are only available in box sets. Well, that leads me to the films I’ve chosen to write about for this blogathon. It’s three films that are part of the Three Wicked Melodramas box set: The Man in Grey, The Wicked Lady and Madonna of the Seven Moons. Like I just mentioned, these are Gainsborough melodramas. If you haven’t seen any of them, I hope my review will convince you to.

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What is interesting with these films, is that they share similarities. But let’s first see what they are about:

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The Man in Grey (Leslie Arliss, 1943) starts in England during the Second World War. A WREN (Phyllis Calvert) and an RAF pilot (Stewart Granger) are attending an auction of the Rohan family possessions. When the pilot exprimes is questionable point of view about the family, the woman reveals him that the last Rohan man was her brother. Confused, the RFA pilots apologizes and admits that his family is also connected to the Rohan.

This is just the prologue. The story really starts when we are brought in a long flashback taking place in England during the 19th century. At Miss Patchett’s school for young ladies, a new teacher arrives. She is Hesther (Margaret Lockwood), a young lady coming from a poor family. Hesther doesn’t seem happy to be there. She never laughs and doesn’t make friends. Not a long time after her arrival, Clarissa (Phyllis Calvert), a popular school girl, makes her entrance. She tries to make friend with Hesther, but this one is left cold. Clarissa finally succeeds, one afternoon, and the two ladies become friends. One day, a drama happens: Hesther runs away from the school with a lover. As she is a “disgrace”, her named is now forever banned in the institution. Clarissa, who can’t stand the fact of being in a place where she can’t name her friend’s name, decides to quit the school.

Later, Clarissa meets Lord Rohan (James Mason), says “The Man in Grey”, in London, during a reception. Rohan is in need of a wife who can give him an heir. Clarissa, that he doesn’t love and who doesn’t love him, is his victim. She thinks the idea’s absurd, but they marry, despite that. One day, Clarissa goes to the theatre to see Shakespeare’s Othello. On the road, the carriage is stopped by a mysterious man (Stewart Granger). Clarissa thinks he his a thief, but he only needs a to be taken some place. So, feeling she hasn’t much choice, Clarissa allows him to take place in the carriage. Arrived at his destination, the man kisses her an goes away. During the viewing of the play, Clarissa recognizes the man in the role of Othello and Hesther in a lady’s role.

Clarissa is glad to have found her friend back. This one told her that she had a miserable time since she left the school. Clarissa, who is ready to take care of her, takes her to her home. There, Hesther meets Lord Rohan and they fel in love together. Later, during a carnival, Clarissa meets the man from the carriage again. His name is Rockeby. They both fall in love with each other. These two love affairs won’t be easy to live, especially when Hesther’s true nature will be revealed…

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The Wicked Lady (Leslie Arliss, 1945) takes place in England, during the 17th century. Caroline (Patricia Roc) and Sir Ralph Skelton (Griffith Jones) are engaged. Caroline’s friend, Barbara Worth (Margaret Lockwood) is invited to the wedding as the maid of honour. When she meets Ralph, interested by his money, she decides to seduce him. This is easy and the result is a marriage between Barbara and Ralph, instead of Caroline and Ralph. This one thinks he loves Barbara, but she has only decided to marry him for his money and her own entertainment.

Soon, Barbara discovers that life with Ralph is too boring for her. So, one night, she discovers a new “activity”: steal carriages, by the “hold-up method”. So, wearing a mask, she becomes a bandit at night. It’s during one of these illegal escapades that she meets Captain Jerry Jackson (James Mason) a notorious and researched highwayman. They decide to form a team and have a love affair. However, Barbara wouldn’t hesitate to take her revenge once he’ll disappoint her. As a matter of fact, the only man Barbara really falls in love with is Kit (Michael Rennie), whom she meets at her wedding.

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Madonna of the Seven Moons (Arthur Crabtree, 1945) is different from the first twos as it takes place in Italy during the 20th century. The film starts during Maddalena (Phyllis Calvert)’s young years. She is a student in a Catholic convent. One day, while she is picking flowers, she is followed by a strange man. Scared, she runs and we don’t see what happens. When she’s back at the convent, she cries and we guess she might have been raped. Not a long time after, the time comes for her to leave the convent. The reverend mother gives her a prayer book as a goodbye gift.

Years later, Maddalena is happily married to Giuseppe Labardi (John Stuart). They live in a beautiful mansion not far from Florence. They are often visited by their friend Doctor Charles Ackroyd (Reginald Tate). Her daughter, Angela (Patricia Roc), that she hasn’t seen for five years, is about to be back home. Maddalena is very worried that something might happen to her on the road. Angela is back with her boyfriend, Evelyn (Alan Haines), who stays to his friends’ place: Jimmy (Petter Murray-Hill), a painter, and his wife Nesta (Dulcie Gray). Caroline is very happy to see her mum, but she notices that this one is very prude, so she decides to take care of this by buying her some new clothes. Maddalena sometimes behaves strangely and Giuseppe explain to his daughter that her mother has been sick during her absence.

One night, after having a blackout during a party, Maddalena runs away from home. She arrives in Florence and goes to The House of the Seven Moons. There, she is a completely different woman. She has a lover, Nino (Stewart Granger), the head of a gang of jewel thieves, and she isn’t Maddalena anymore, but Rosanna. Maddalena lives a double life. When she is Maddalena, she doesn’t remember having been Rosanna and visa versa. On their side, Carolina, Giuseppe and other Maddalena’s relatives  will do everything they can to find her.

Now, I’ve decided to discuss these films not separately, but as a whole. Remember, I told you Gainsborough melodramas shares a lot of similarities.

The actors and their characters

Margaret Lockwood: Margaret Lockwood was the most popular British actress in the 40’s. She certainly was the Queen of Gainsborough melodramas. The actress was part of The Man in Grey and The Wicked Lady. In both cases, she plays a very bad woman. I’m often asking myself which one is the worst: Hesther or Barbara Skelton? It’s hard to answer. However, I think Barbara is the most interesting character. Why? Because she represents the modern post-World War II woman. You see, during the war, married women started working as their husband were on the front. They became more independent economically, but also sexually. Barbara embodies this last element through her relationship with Jerry Jackson. She might be a wicked woman, but she also is a strong and clever one, and this side of her can be a model for us, ladies, but not the other one! Margaret Lockwood is one of my absolute favourite actresses. Even if she plays two evil women, both characters are, in a way very different, which proves her versatility. Hesther is much more “discrete” and Barbara is much more expressive. For those who know Mrs Lockwood’s work, you might have noticed the she knew how to play comedy as well. Give Us the Moon would be a good example.

James Mason: This excellent actor plays two mysterious men in The Man in Grey and The Wicked Lady. His character in The Man in Grey is kind of odious. We do not really share sympathy with him. James Mason succeeded in his duty of making Lord Rohan a despicable man. Jerry Jackson is different. He’s far from being a good man, but he enjoys life much more and knows how to express himself. He has a certain sense of humour, and, unlike Rohan, laughs once in a while. James Mason’s character in The Wicked Lady is much richer than the one in The Man in Grey.

Phyllis Calvert: Being part of The Man in Grey and Madonna of the Seven Moons, the lovely Phyllis Calvert stars in those films as the sweet innocent lady. Well, concerning Madonna of the Seven Moons, that’s only the case when she is Maddalena. As Rosanna, she is much wilder. This film proves her great acting abilities since Maddalena and Rosanna are two very different persons sharing the same body. Her performance in this film is kind of fascinating, a real tour de force. If you’re not too familiar with this actress, is with pleasure, I’m sure, that you’ll discover her. It’s impossible not to like her. She became a favourite of mine immediately after I saw her in The Man in Grey.

Stewart Granger: Just like Phyllis Calvert, I was introduced to Stewart Granger with The Man in Grey. Before that, I didn’t know what kind of actor he was. The only thing I knew about him is that he was Jean Simmons’ first husband. I absolutely loved him is The Man in Grey and he became a favourite of mine as well. In this film  and Madonna of the Seven Moons, Stewart Grangers plays a rather exotic man. He’s not the proper English (or Italian) gentleman with a tie and a black jacket, but the wild one, with a taste for adventure.

Patricia Roc: The pretty Patricia Roc is the sweet and naive girl in The Wicked Lady and the modern young girl in Madonna of the Seven Moons. In both cases her performance grabs our attention. Patricia Roc is unfortunately not a very well known actress, but she deserves to be discovered. The girl has talent, and her performance in both films is very touching. I would say, she is one of  the actress I’m the most curious about.

These are the “major” actors of those three films. I won’t talk about them all, because there are too many, but here are some honourable mentions: Jean Kent, Micheal Rennie, Griffith Jones, Dulcie Gray, Martita Hunt, Helen Haye, etc.

The reception

The Gainsborough Melodramas, without any exception, were all box office hits in the UK. What make these films so popular in this country? They are not often cited as masterpieces, which makes them very underrated. Those films were made on a smaller budget than Hollywoodian films, but were able to show us something brilliant. The most successful of the three, The Wicked Lady, was unfortunately not well received in USA and was severely censored by the Production Code due to its use of themes such as adultery, violence, rape, etc. Certain scenes had to be re-shoot for the American version. The Wicked Lady also makes scandal in UK on its release, but not as much as in United Stated. We guess the English were more tolerant. The Mother Queen liked it, which was a good thing.

Mason & lockwood

The costumes

That’s something I always notice in the Gainsborough Melodramas: the beautiful costumes. The Man in Grey and The Wicked Lady allows us to see historical costumes. Concerning The Man in Grey, the 19th century has always been one of my favourite historical period presented on screen, especially for the costumes. Just think about Gone with the Wind! In Madonna of the Seven Moons, the costumes are more “modern” as it takes place during the 20th century. But, they are also so refined! Strangely, I couldn’t find any information about the costume designers for these films. Well, here are some pictures to make you realized how gorgeous they are.

The themes: 

You’ll find a lot of common themes in The Man in Grey, The Wicked Lady and Madonna of the Seven Moons. One of them is the wedding. Most of the time, it’s an unhappy one, if you take the example of Ralph and Barbara, or a wedding that would have to face challenges, if you consider what happen to Maddalena in Madonna of the Seven Moons.

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These three films, without exception, are known for using the controversial themes of sexuality and adultery. This last one is twice used in The Man in Grey by Clarissa’s love affair with Rockeby and Hesther’s one with Clarissa’s husband, Lord Rohan. In The Wicked Lady, Barbara commits adultery by having an affair with Jerry Jackson. In Madonna of the Seven Moons, the use of adultery is arguable. Sure, in a way, Maddalena commits adultery once she joins Nino, but she isn’t conscious of what she’s doing. The sexuality is also used in the three films. Madonna of the Seven Moons is known as a “psychosexual drama”. There’s indeed something very Freudian about this film. Maddalena’s strange behaviour is certainly due to a trauma: probably this episode when she was raped as a young girl, but this is never mentioned in the film. So, we don’t know if she remembers it.

Finally, the violence is another theme used in these films. Without revealing it, The Man in Grey‘s ending use this theme in a quite horrible way. Some characters in these films haven’t got pity. Barbara Skelton won’t hesitate to use a gun once she’ll need it, but this will take her to a fatal faith. The violence in Madonna of the Seven Moons is less obvious, but it’s there. It would majorly be embodied by Nino, who has a hot temper.

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The cinematography:

The Man in Grey and The Wicked Lady, especially The Wicked Lady, have the particularity of using a visual aesthetic that can make us think of the one in American Films Noir (that were also at their golden age in the 40’s). It’s the use of shadows and contrast that allows us this comparison. I’ve always thought that The Wicked Lady could be classified as a kind of Film Noir. It’s not one, but it shares a lot of similarities. Barbara Skelton would certainly be the femme fatale. The woman in this film also has the same sort of function. Well, if it’s not a Film noir, it could be categorized in a sub-category of this genre, just like western-Noirs or science-fiction-Noirs are. The cinematography in Madonna of the Seven Moons is more luminous. Unlike in The Wicked Lady, the major action takes place during daytime. There’s also something very poetic in the set of this film. Maybe because it takes place in Italy. *Sight…

Finally, the screenplay:

The Man in Grey, The Wicked Lady and Madonna of the Seven Moons were all based on a novel: The Man in Grey by Eleanor Smith; The Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton by Magdalen King-Hall and The Madonna of the Seven Moons by Margery Lawrence. The last ones were themselves based on real life stories. The highest quality of these screenplays is the evolution of the characters. As a matter of fact, the most interesting ones are those interpreted by Margaret Lockwood: Hesther and Barbara Skelton. They might be to mean women, but to see how they are developed in the story is enough fascinating, especially for Hesther. Except that, The stories are entertaining and thrilling. We wonder so much what will happen at the end, because, sometimes, it’s hard to say if problems will be solved or not.

There would be much more to say about these films. We are lucky Eclipse added them to its collection, so it can allow the curious to watch them. I’ve always been a fan of Gainsborough Melodramas. They are not perfect, but they certainly have something to tell us. They are interesting, entertaining, brilliant and often group a bunch of talented British actors. Among the three I’ve talked about in this text, you might wonder which one is my favourite. Well, it’s The Wicked Lady. The other ones are great as well, but The Wicked Lady has something special. If you haven’t seen any Gainsborough Melodramas, that’s the one I’ll start with if I were you.

I finally want to thank Criterion Blues, Speakeasy and Silver Screening for hosting such a nice event! It was a pleasure for me to revisit my Three Wicked Melodramas dvd box set.

I invite you to read the other lovely entries as well:

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Day one

Day two

Day three

Day four

Day five

Day six

I’ll leave you with the Gainsborough Pictures logo, which I just adore:

See you soon!