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!
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
Well, thanks again to Terence for hosting such a worthy blogathon, and to you, Margaret, I wish you the loveliest heavenly 100th birthday ❤
Aren’t they some movies that you always feel like watching, whatever the time, your mood, etc.? For me, Give Us the Moon, one of the most delightful comedies ever made, is one of them. Yes, a delicious film, just like ice cream. It’s one of those films that makes you forget your problems and simply appreciate a cinematographic moment. Talking about ice cream, it’s precisely for the Ice Cream Social Blogathonhosted by Fritzi at Movie Silently, that I chose to write about Give Us the Moon. I wanted to do so since a long time, but never had the occasion to. When I saw what Fritzi Blogathon was about (writing about movies that cheer us up), I said to myself “Ok, Virginie, that’s your occasion.”
My objective here will not only be to tell you why I love this film so much, but I also really want to convince you to see it as well, because you might have never heard about Give Us the Moon. It’s normal, it’s not a very well-known film, but you ought to watch it and discover it. It’s an order!
In this case, you might wonder how I came to watch this film. It’s simple. Two words: Margaret Lockwood. As she is one of my very favourite actresses, I want to watch all her films, so I purchased it (having then no idea what it was about), watched it and voila. Oh, and it also stars a young Jean Simmons which is for me a major bonus. Jean Simmons and Margaret Lockwood in the same film, that’s like dream!
This British moving picture was directed by Val Guest and release in 1944. It stars Margaret Lockwood as Nina, Peter Graves as Peter Pyke, Vic Oliver as Sascha, Roland Culver as Ferdinand Foret, Jean Simmons as Heidi, Frank Cellier as Pyke Sr. (aslo known as “The Fat One”), Max Bacon as Jacobus, George Relph as Otto, Eliot Makeham as Lunka, Alan Keith as Raphael, Iris Lang as Tania and Gibb McLaughlin as Marcel. The movie was based on the novel The Elephant is White by Caryl Brahams and S.J Simon, a book that I certainly would love to read. Caryl Brahams also participated to the writing of the film alongside Val Guest.
Give Us the Moon takes place in London after the second world war. Peter Pyke, a lazy young man, lives in his father’s chic hotel the “Eisenhower Hotel”, and doesn’t seem to do much of his life. However, his father is pressuring him to take care of the hotel business, which obviously doesn’t interest Peter at all. One morning, he receives a letter from an unknown girl asking him to meet her at the restaurant The Silver Samovar. The letter is signed “Nina Princess of…Ah! But that was in Moscow” Of course, Peter is curious and goes to the restaurant. On his way, he saves a tramp who was about to commit suicide by jumping in a river. The tramp accuses him to “interfere with his destiny” and finally asks him for money. At the Silver Samovar, Peter wait, and wait and wait, until he discovers that he is not the only one to have received the famous letter. He has been fooled. Angry, he decides to only take a glass of water. Then, the “famous” Nina arrives and begs him to leave, because her “husband” is “very jealous”. Peter goes, but comes back as soon as she has left to finish his glass of water (and doesn’t really believe Nina’s story). He then meets Heidi, Nina’s little sister. When Nina comes back, she doesn’t understand what he’s still doing here. He then tells her that “this would make a fine story for the morning paper”. Nina, scandalized, asks to her friends to not let him go. He is then brought in a room where are seated a few other people. Nina is angry that Peter might ruin the restaurant, but he tells her that this was only a joke. Meanwhile, Nina and her partners keep talking about “White Elephants”. Nina explains to Peter that he and his friend are “White Elephant”, meaning they are useless members of the society. They make money by doing nothing useful or helpful, one of them being Sascha, the tramp Peter had previously met. Peter confesses that he hates work himself. So, Nina and the other agrees that he should become a white elephant. Of course, this is just the beginning of the adventure.
Alongside movies such as Bringing Up Baby or It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World!, Give Us the Moon is one of the craziest comedies I’ve ever seen, but crazy in the good way! The moments where I don’t laugh are rare. Even when I just think about it, it makes me smile. See how a great effect it has on me!
The comedy in this film is first embodied by the characters’ variety. They are all interesting.
First, you have Peter Pyke. Peter is one of those people who succeed to escape from a boring business life to have some fun at last. Well, that’s what he is meant to be. Even if Peter can be easily irritable, on another side, he has a great sense of humour and he is a rather sympathetic person. Peter is played by Peter Graves. We’re here talking about the British actor, not the American one. I have to say it’s the only film of his I’ve seen, but I think he’s a rather nice actor. It’s easy to appreciate him. He and Margaret Lockwood have a great chemistry together. They also starred together in I’ll Be Your Sweetheart release the next year (also directed by Val Guest).
Then, there’s Nina. Nina is a white Russian and claims she once was a princess. However, Nina has a lot of imagination and Peter (whom she calls “Pete”) is not easily fooled. Nina is a sparkling young lady, full of life and energy. She also has a maternal side and often seems to forget that Heidi is not her daughter, but jus her sister. By playing the role of Nina, Margaret Lockwood proves us her versatility as an actress. Here, she is as lovely as ever and simply hilarious. I love when she does that little sigh “Hummmm!” She’ll certainly reach your heart when you’ll watch this film!
Sascha is probably the most deceptive of all the White Elephants. He finds incredible ways to make money, one of them involving Pyke Sr’s hotel. Sasha is a very expressive person. He talks and acts in a very theatrical way, what makes him a rather colourful character. Sasha was played by Vic Oliver, who certainly turns out to be an intriguing actor.
Heidi is the youngest White Elephant. She’s Nina’s eleven years old sister and a little pest. The only one who actually seems to appreciate her is her sister. Heidi hates school and always finds a way to run away from it. She’s a little rebel, smokes and drinks. But overall, she’s very clever and we can help being charmed by her girlish laugh. She’ll become Pyke Sr’s ally when this one will have trouble with the White Elephants at his hotel. This was Jean Simmons’ second film (the first one being Sports Day). She was only 15 when she starred in it. Even if she doesn’t have a leading role, her supporting part is rather important and any Jean Simmons’ fans will enjoy it. I think she’s my favourite character in the film.
Ferdinand Foret (Gee, I love this name!) is probably the laziest White Elephants. He’s always lying down in his sofa and seems to never get up from it. Ferdinand is working on a thesis about jealousy. He makes love to married women to study the husbands’ reactions. However, he has never been caught, so his business is going quite slowly… Until he finally gets caught by the landlord. He will be provoked to a duel. This film allowed me to discover Roland Culver, who certainly is an appreciable actor.
Pyke Sr’s only objective in life is to make sure his son becomes a businessman and run the hotel just like him. He talks a lot a constantly reproaches to his son to be too lazy. To him, the most important thing in life is to make money. However, he won’t say “no” to some fun… I think Frank Cellier was well cast as Pyk. He has the physic and the perfect attitude for such a character.
These are the most important characters of the story. Apart from them, there is Jacobus, a White Elephant who spends his time cutting reduction coupons to save money; General Lunka, who owns the Silver Samovar; Alan Keith, a White Elephant who has a “system”: “With 10 000 pounds I could make your fortune”; Otto, an hypnotic; Marcel, the hotel’s main valet and Tania, another white elephant.
All these characters, even the minor ones, add a rich substance to the film and make it so lively. It’s hard to say which one is a favourite as they are all very different and all have their own shiny personality.
When I was watching the film for the blogathon, I took notes and wow! I couldn’t stop myself quoting it. Give Us the Moon is, of course, a comedy as I have said and the dialogues are a major element to this hilarity. Here are some (ok, many) of my favourite examples:
1. Servant: It’s your breakfast sir.
Peter: There’s something down there staring at me.
Servant: It’s a bloater, sir.
Peter: Well take it away, it reminds me of Arthur Askey. (I was curious to know who Arthur Askey was. He was a British stand up comic).
3. Sascha [after Peter had saved him from his false suicide attemp]: Who are you to interfere with my destiny?
Sascha: What right have you to come between me and my chosen mistress, Death?
4. Sascha [ to Peter]: Then go away English man, to your life, to your roast beef, to your laughter. Ha! Ha! Ha!
5. Sascha [to Peter]: You’ve got money?
Peter: What a nerve! Ahaha!
6. Sascha [repeated line]: What is time? What is life? What is the universe?
7. Nina [talking about her imaginary husband]: He is an American from Chicago, a very bad man. They call him Two-Gun…erm… Two-Gun Abramovitch.
8. Peter: I forgot my water.
Servant: Your water?
Peter: Yes, the stuff that goes under bridges.
9. Heidi [first line. to Peter]: Tip him! (talking about the taxi driver).
10. Peter [meeting Heidi]: Howdy Heidi!
11. Nina [about Peter]: Treat him gently. He has a nice smile!
12. Heidi [ringin a bell]: Come on, wake up!
Raphael: Go away Heidi!
Ferdinand: Why doesn’t somebody drown her?
13. Tania [to Peter]: This is Otto.
Peter: What is he? A white zombie?
14. Otto [repeated line]: Mud. Everything is mud.
15. Nina : You know we must get the ceiling painted. [this line really comes out of nowhere, that’s what makes it funny]
16. Various characters: All elephants are my brothers.
17. Pyke Sr. [to a valet]: What are you doing here?
Valet: Nothing, sir.
Pyke Sr. : Do I pay you to do nothing?
Valet: Yes, sir.
18. Nina: It’s only the stupid person in this world who are happy.
19. Heidi [arriving to her new school]: Oh blast!
Nina: Heidi! Quiet!
Heidi: Well, I’ve left my cigarettes behind.
Nina: It is not nice that you drink and smoke.
20. Nina: Pete, look! A haystack!
Peter: Well, what of it?
21. Peter [sitting down on a needle in the haystack]: Ow!
Nina: My Pete. How clever of you to find a needle in a haystack!
22. Ferdinand [being provoked to a duel with the landlord]: The things I’ve done for my thesis!
23. Nina [to Peter on the evening before Ferdinand’s duel]: And now we must say goodbye to Ferdinand. And remember to keep a sad face because he has only a few more hours with us.
24. Nina [arriving on the duel location with a first Aid quit]: Ferdinand! Ohhh! Ferdinand! But you have won! This is glorious! Where is the dead man?
Ferdinand: We haven’t started yet…
25. Nina [to Sascha wearing a complet]: Oh. Sacha, but you look so distingué!
26. Pyke Sr. [surprised by Nina while doing his exercices at the hotel’s gym]: Good lord! How long have you been there?
Nina: But continue. Do not mind me. I like it. It reminds me of the ballet.
27. Pyke Sr. [writing a check to Nina]: Nina who?
Pyke Sr. : “Pay Cash”
28. Otto [power cut has started]: Dark. Everything is dark.
Ferdinand: Then why don’t you just shut up and go to sleep?
I know there are many, but I just love them all!
What I also love about Give Us the Moon is the irony of it. For instance, when the Russian characters talk in another language, it’s never in Russian, but always in French (???) making us wondering if they are really Russian! I can think of Nina saying ” We shall pay him back every sous” or “Bon” at the end of a sentence. Or I can think of Sasha saying ” Voilà!” or ” Oh pardon monsieur! Pardon mademoiselle!” And I have to say, from the few words we hear, their french seems quite good and well spoken. 😉
Another irony resides in the fact that the film takes place after the war. However, it was made during the war (released in 1944)! It gives us the clue that it was one of those films that were made to make us forget the troubles that were going on at the time, a movie to simply entertain the people in those difficult moments.
Finally, one of those little delightful ironic things is the fact that, every times Nina and Peter try to kiss, they are interrupted by someone or something. They are about to kiss and Sascha arrives: “Ex…quisite.” They are about to kiss and Heidi arrives, sidling on the banister. They are about to kiss and Peter sits down on a needle in the haystack.
What is also amusing about Give Us the Moon are the many references to classic Hollywood and famous movie stars in general:
The film is introduced to us with a quote: “If Any Character in this film resemble and character. Living of dead. Then that character has no character.” – Groucho Marx or Someone-
Sascha [Talking on the phone with the Swedish Ambassy]: Oh I just called you, it’s nothing important… I wanted to tell you, I love Greta Garbo”
A young valet at the hotel [about Sascha]: They said Jack Benny was the meanest man in the world.
Peter [about the man sitting at the table with Nina]: What is that pocket Charles Laughton doing at Nina’s table?
There are pictures of movies stars (including Marlene Dietrich) in Heidi’s room
One of the white Elephant, Sergei, is in Hollywood to become an actor. He has promised to the other members to send them half of his pay. They are all waiting patiently the famous “letter” since a long time.
Nina: Everywhere I have adventures. I remember when I was at Casablanca…
Nina: I was never in Casablanca.
I’ve always wondered if that was not a reference to the film Casablanca… Could be!
Finally, aside from all these quotes, various characters and movie stars’ references, what makes this film worthy and entertaining are all those delightful little moments and little details. The film is truffled by a ton of them, so it will be hard to name them all. You also have to discover them by yourself when you’ll watch it! Because you will watch it. Yes?
In the meantime, I can name a few of my favourites just to give you a preview:
– Nina and Peter’s love scenes almost always happen in the Silver Samovar’ staircase.
– In one of those love scenes, we heard sentimental music. Peter (and us) then discover it was Sascha playing violin with a little orchestra (the musicians of the restaurant) to add a romantic ambiance. 😉
– Heidi’s laugh.
– Nina’s smile and little grin.
– The servant at the hotel who takes a shoe instead of the phone.
– The door at the Silver Samovar who always creaks, telling us when someone is going in or going out.
– Nina’s stories.
– Heidi, who always finds a may to make noise and disturb everybody, often with a bell.
– Nina and Peter’s reaction when they discover Heidi has once more run away from school.
– When Nina shows a picture of Sergei to Peter.
– The lobster in Otto’s plate, starring at him.
– When Sascha cooks “crêpes suzettes”
And so on.
I’ve obviously have said much about this film, but it’s because there was a lot to say! I just simply love it! Give Us the Moon is not a known as a “masterpiece”, but it’s the perfect movie to simply be entertained and not having to think too much. It’s a film that deserves to be seen many times. While I’m writing these words, it makes me want to watch it over and over again. Give Us the Moon is the perfect film to cheer you up and make you forget about your life problems. Well, that’s supposed to be the objective of the movies people are talking about in this blogathon!
Anyway, I hope this long article (!) convinced you to see this film for the first time, or re-watch it, if you’ve already seen it. I swear, you won’t regret it!
Unfortunately, there aren’t any existing trailer of the film, but I’ll invite you to watch this only youtube clip. It’s short, enjoyable and it will gives you a good preview.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Today, I’m participating to the Criterion Blogathon, gracefully hosted by Criterion Blues, Speakeasy 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.
What is interesting with these films, is that they share similarities. But let’s first see what they are about:
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…
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.
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.
Margaret Lockwood stars as Barbara Worth, who after stealing and marrying her best friendís fiancÈ, adds some excitement to her privileged but boring life by embarking on a career as a highway robber. After meeting dashing fellow highwayman Captain Jackson (James Mason), the pair begin a passionate nocturnal affair before she turns to murder. Stars: Margaret Lockwood as Barbara Worth, James Mason as Captain Jerry Jackson, Patricia Roc as Caroline, Michael Rennie as Kit Locksby Director: Leslie Arliss
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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: