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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Thing Like Cricket!: The Friendship of Charters and Caldicott

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This weekend, Debbie from Moon in Gemini is hosting the You Gotta Have Friends Blogathon, honouring the beautiful thing that friendship is, on and off the screen. I was, for the occasion, inspired to write about the notorious British characters Charters and Caldicott, two friends portrayed by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne.

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It all started with The Lady Vanishes (Alfred Hitchcock, 1938). This Hitchcock’s suspense is known for its variety of characters rich in personality and this includes Charters and Caldicott.

The two fellows are best known for being cricket addicts. They are always talking about it and for them, it seems that it’s all that matters in the world. In The Lady Vanishes, they are on their way back to Manchester for the Test Match and they simply CANNOT miss their train connexion at Bâle.

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On her side, Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) has lost her friend Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) and suspects something has happened to her. Oddly enough, everybody on the train tells her they haven’t seen her. Iris looks for witnesses and remembers Miss Froy had talked to Charters and Caldicott in the restaurant wagon when they were having tea. The two men pretend they don’t remember it, as they don’t want anything to interfere with their hurry to arrive in Manchester on time.

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See, cricket is the most important thing in life for them. They simply refuse to help because of it! And when Iris ask them how things like cricket can make them forget, it’s the supreme insult!

But as much as they try to avoid it, Charters and Caldicott will eventually be involved in the train situation that implies a bunch of spies.

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After having read that, you might think that Charters and Caldicott are not very sympathetic characters. But you are wrong. Their appearance in The Lady Vanishes was so appreciated by the public that they appeared in 3 other films: Night Train to Munich (Carol Reed, 1940), Crook’s Tour (John Baxter, 1941) and Millions Like Us (Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, 1943). They were also part of the BBC radio serials Crook’s Tour and Secret Mission 609. A one season TV series called Charters & Caldicott was made in the 80s, but this one obviously doesn’t star Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford.

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Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne appeared in 8 other films together as different characters: The Next of Kin, Dead of Night, A Girl in a Million, Quartet, It’s Not Cricket, Passport to Pimlico, Stop Press Girl, and Helter Skelter. 

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Charters and Caldicott are like peas and carrots. One couldn’t exist without the other. They simply are like non-identical twins and their personalities connect perfectly. We have no doubt they have a big complicity and we’ll have the tendency to think that they met at a cricket match and discovered a common passion. They seem to be a bit selfish and snobbish, but, somehow, they are always involved in a political conflict: in The Lady Vanishes they take part in the final fight and help the “good ones” to escape with the train and cross the border. In Night Train to Munich, they help an old friend, Dickie Randall (Rex Harrison), and also Anna Bomasch (Margaret Lockwood) and her father Axel Bomasch (James Harcourt) to escape from the Nazis. In Crook’s Tour, they became owners, by accident, of a record containing secret instructions for the German Intelligence. Their appearance is very brief in Million’s Like Us, but once again they are here to help their country as two English soldiers fighting in the war (the second one).

Because yes, despite their indifference toward life, Charters and Caldicott turn out to be two jolly good fellows that are always willing to help. They are “very British” and would do everything to save the faith of their country, even if it includes risking their own life.

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Charters and Caldicott are English gentlemen that are hilarious and this, unwittingly. First, because of their strong and comical devotion to cricket, something that is quite anodyne. Then, for always putting themselves in some ridiculous situations, but always trying to be serious. I can think of this scene when they have to sleep in the maid’s room at the inn in The Lady Vanishes or when Charters has his face covered with whip cream when he attempts to pick save the famous record in Crook’s Tour.

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Their way of thinking and their life priorities are rather amusing too. One of the best examples is when, in Nigh Train to Munich, they learned that England is at war, and the first thing Charters thinks about is what will happen to his gold clubs (!). Or when, in the same film, Charters is reading Hitler’s Mein Kampf as if it was some little easy going lecture, as if it was an Archie Comic or something like that!

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Charters and Caldicott are always talking about cricket, but the funny thing is, in all the four films we actually never see them attending a match or playing themselves. No, they always seem to be travelling together, in countries with an unstable political situation.   This makes their character even more interesting and we surely are curious to know more about their life in England.

We have the pleasure to watch the four Charters and Caldicott films as each of them gives us more information about their life and their personality. In The Lady Vanishes, we don’t know much about them, except for the fact that they are cricket addicts. Bon. Then, in Night Train to Munich, we know that Caldicott went to college AND had a friend named Dickie Randall. We also know that Charters is not only a cricket’s addict, but also a golf ‘s addict. And, finally, we discover how patriotic they are, and how to be treated as good British subjects is very important to them (even if the German don’t seem to give a damn at all…). Crook’s Tour maybe is the most revealing of the three as Charters and Caldicott are the main characters of the film. The story depends on him. Here, we learn that Caldicott is engaged to Charter’s sister, the very authoritarian Edith (Noel Hood), who doesn’t seem to be an idealistic choice for him. We also learn their first name: Sinclair Caldicott and Hawtrey Charters. We realize how they are important to each other when Charters thinks he has killed Caldicott by accident (but he hasn’t). His traumatized face tells us a lot about how he regrets it. Poor Charters! And also, one of my favourite things about this film is the fact that Caldicott is in love! Not with Charter’s sister, but with the beautiful exotic dancer La Palermo (Greta Gynt). He’s too adorable when he smiles too her, hypnotized. And it’s in Crook’s Tour that we’ll see the only Caldicott’s on-screen kiss. So, Charters and Caldicott actually have feelings and can also be in love with girls and not only with cricket! Finally, in Millions Like Us, we learn that Caldicott has a wife, but we don’t really know who it is. Could it be La Palermo???

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Caldicott in love!
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Noel Hood as Edith Charters
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Greta Gynt as La Palermo

 

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Charters and Caldicott are one of the best examples of what best friends are. Always, calling each other “old man”, they do not only have very connective personalities, but always seems to get along well. We indeed never or rarely see them angry at each other. They are perfect travelling companions and their complicity is contagious.

The Lady Vanishes, Night Train to Munich, Crook’s Tour and Millions Like Us certainly wouldn’t have been the same without their presence. They form one of the most appreciable duos of the British screen. Of course, their interprets were brilliant too. Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne built those unique personalities and gave them the perfect essence to become first class characters.

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Charters and Caldicott simply are the proof that two ordinary English gentlemen can become some of the most interesting characters in a film.

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I would like to thank Moon in Gemini for hosting this fun blogathon! It was a perfect occasion for me to finally watch Crook’s Tour and Millions Like Us that I had never seen before. The Charters and Caldicott’s films are all brilliant in their own way.

Don’t forget to read the other entries!

You Gotta Have Friends Blogathon Day 1

You Gotta Have Friends Blogathon Day 2

You Gotta Have Friends Blogathon Day 3

See you!

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Fun picture of Nauton Wayne, Margaret Lockwood and Basil Radford on the set of Night Train to Munich