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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Young and Innocent, a Typical Hitchcock’s British Film Indeed!

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For those who have read this blog since I created it, you probably know that I’m fond of British films (REAL British films). Following this idea, Terence Twoles Canote’s British Invaders Blogathon is one of my favourite blogging events. Last year, if you remember, I wrote about the very British Anthony Asquith’s The Importance of Being Earnest. For this year’s blogathon, I decided to go with my good old Hitchcock and introduce you to Young and Innocent.
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As a matter of fact, Young and Innocent is not Hitchcock most well known film, but it was my introduction to his pre-1940 British films. And I can positively say that, alongside The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, The Lodger, The Man Who Knew Too Much and Murder!, it’s one of his best from this period.
Actually, Young and Innocent is a good introduction to every Hitchcock’s films in general, not only those produced in the UK. Why? We’ll come back to that in a short while.
Young and Innocent (also known as The Girl Was Young in the US) was released in 1937. It was one of Hitchcock’s last films before moving to the States where he’ll make some films produced by the prolific (but not always appreciated by the Master) David O’Selznick.
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Young and Innocent is one of those typical “wrong man” Hitchcock’s films: A movie star, Christine Clay, has been murdered. Robert Tisdall (Derrick De Marney) is wrongly accused of being the murderer. Before the trial starts, he manages to escape. The Chief Constable’s daughter, Erica (Nova Pilbeam), after few hesitations, will help him to find the real murderer.
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This is very simple. And as you can see, a typical Hitchcock’s film. Of course, everything doesn’t happen the same way for each Hitchcock’s film of this type! The stories are not the same ones, the characters either.
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Like every Hitchcock’s films (except for The Ring), Young and Innocent was based on a literary work. However, IMDB informs us that the master of Suspense only used one-third of Elizabeth Mackintosh’s novel A Shilling for Candles (written under the name of Josephine Tey), and changed the identity of the murderer. The film’s screenplay was written by Charles Bennett, Edwin Greenwood and Anthony Armstrong. Charles Bennett is also known for being the author of Blackmail, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, Sabotage, Secret Agent, Foreign Correspondent and Saboteur‘s screenplays, all films directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The two men certainly made a prolific pair. Bennett was nominated at the 1941’s Oscar for his work on Foreign Correspondent.
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Young and Innocent presents us a delicious bunch of exclusively British actors who all portray quite intriguing characters. That’s one the strengths of this film: the characters’ variety and their strong contribution to the film.
Starting with Derrick de Marney as Robert Tisdall. This one has indeed the perfect “young and innocent” face. His acting remains very simple, but he doesn’t neglect that British humour that we appreciate so much in Hitchcock’s films. His kind manners make him credible as being the innocent one. In other words, he is one we can easily appreciate.
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This was not Nova Pilbeam’s first film under the direction of Hitchcock. Indeed, she previously played the role of Betty Lawrence in the original version of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934). She was only 19 when she starred in Young and Innocent, but what a brilliant actress she already was! It’s too bad that she wasn’t more well-know. However, she had quite a short film career. Her character, Erica, is someone who will take time before admitting she likes someone, but who will secretly do everything for this person. We can feel that, at some occasions, Nova Pilbeam is maybe a little bit too emotional, but she remains brilliant anyway. Alongside Vivien Leigh, Nova Pilbeam was one of the actresses considered for the role of Iris Henderson in Hithcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938). The role went to Margaret Lockwood. Also, David O’Selznick, who saw her potential in Young and Innocent, wanted to cast her for Rebecca, but the part went to Joan Fontaine. Maybe this would have made her an international film star.
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Young and Innocent was Percy Marmont’s last film under the direction of Alfred Hitchcock. He doesn’t have a leading role, but a very useful and appreciable supporting one. He was very well-cast as the Chief Constable, Colonel Burgoyne, a man who applies the law, but who is not thick headed like some others. I have to say that, among all Hitchcock’s films he made, this one has to be my favourite role of his. He is simple (in the good way) and doesn’t exaggerate his acting.
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Edward Rigby, who portrays Old Will, is a perfect British character actor. Ok, I haven’t seen many of his film, but viewing Young and Innocent is enough to say that. He is, by no doubt, the funniest actor of the lot. Just to think of the way he dances makes me smile. Of course, without the character of Old Will himself, the film wouldn’t be the same and the events of the story would certainly take a different turn.
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Wait, I said Edward Rigby is the funniest actor of the lot. Actually, J.H Roberts as the Solicitor, Henry Briggs, is too. With is awesome accent he also embodies the most “British” character of the film. It’s too bad that we see him in the film for only a very short while. His presence, as much small as she is, is highly appreciated.
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Finally, Young and Innocent introduced Mary Clare and Basil Radford to the Hitchcockian world. In Young and Innocent they play Erica’s aunt and uncle, but we also saw them together the next year as Charters and Baronne Isabel Nisatona in Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. We also saw Basil Radford in Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn. Their part in Young and Innocent is unfortunately quite small. They play an amusing duo and we regret not seeing them longer. For those who have seen them in The Lady Vanishes, you’ll agree with me that it’s hard not to smile when we see them is this small scene of Young and Innocent. Of course, this film proves us Mary Clare’s versatility as an actress because her role is so different from the one in The Lady Vanishes. In Hitchcock/Truffaut, Hitchcock reveals to us that this birthday party scene where we see the two actors was cut in the American version of the film. Most regrettable. As he explains, it’s quite an important scene and it was stupid to delete it.
Apart from the actors, Hitchcock had his cameo in the film! And you know what? This is my favourite Hitchcock’s cameo. We see him during this scene when Robert escapes. He’s there with a very small camera which creates a cute and funny contrast: the big Hitchcock and a teeny tiny camera. This looks completely ridiculous, and, the poor one, he tries to take a picture, but we can clearly see he can’ because of all the scene’s chaos. He also tries to say something to the policeman next to him, but this one is too busy with other things to listen to him. Poor Hitch!
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Take a moment to watch this scene (the cameo is at 1min28)
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To continue with the narrative aspects of the film, what I like about it is the irony of the climax. During this one, the trio formed by Robert, Erica and Old Will is at the Grand Hotel to find the real murderer. I won’t hide to you that he is there indeed, but what’s funny about this scene is the fact that he completely ridicules himself. He’s not subtle at all. The Young and Innocent‘s villain is certainly one of Hitchcock’s most clumsy villains. He just has to see Old Will to loose all his credibility (you’ll understand why when you’ll see the film).
I also like this scene when Robert manages to run away by only hiding himself with a pair of glasses. Are people that nut? This film certainly has a lot of humour, a Hitchcockian humour indeed.
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You might wonder why it is called Young and Innocent. Well, I read in a book about Hitchcock that, in this film, the children behave like adults and the adults behave like children. It’s not completely false! For example, at the gas station, it’s a little boy who fills up the gas tank instead of his father who is busy eating his lunch. And we can see Erica’s aunt amusement when she plays with the children at her daughter’s birthday party. The title could also be a reference to the simple fact that the protagonist of the film, Robert is young and… innocent: he hasn’t killed Christine Clay. But in a general idea, the two main characters of the story are young people. Derrick De Marney was already 31 when he starred in this film (it’s not “old”, but it’s not as young as Nova Pilbeam), but we have to agree that he looks much younger. I mentioned that, in the US, the film was called The Girl Was Young. Well, yes, she was young, but I believe it’s a much less interesting title as it contains nothing very relevant. This is just like if To Catch a Thief, for example, was called The Girl Was Rich
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For the technical aspects, Young and Innocent remains very interesting for this travelling shot in the Grand Hotel. The camera shows us a long shot of the ballroom and gradually moves to the murdered to end this travelling with an extreme close-up of his eyes. That’s something Hitchcock liked to do: moving from a general view of something to one very precise element. He repeated the same thing in Notorious, when the camera shows us the famous key in Ingrid Bergman’s hand, but the effect was not as much well made as it was in Young and Innocent. We can easily say that it’s the best shot of the film.
In the same scene, the music also has a very important role to play. For those who haven’t seen the film yet, I simply want to inform you that I’ll be revealing spoilers in this paragraph. As I explained in my article Hitchcock and the Music, that scene has to be my favourite collaboration between Hitchcock and the music. The way he uses it is quite amazing. During this scene, there’s a band playing music and the singer sings “I’m right here to tell you mister, no one can like the drummer man!” A song that seems anodyne at first, but who turns out to be a big clue as we soon discover that, the man Erica, Robert and Old Will are looking for his… the drummer man! Of course, this adds even more irony to the scene. No One Can Like the Drummer Man was composed by Samuel Lerner [end of the spoilers].
You can watch this scene here (or wait to see the full movie if you don’t want any spoilers revealed).
Warning: the song will probably be stuck in your head forever (but it’s a nice song, luckily)!
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Well, Young and Innocent, as you can see, is one of those less known Hitchcock’s films that certainly deserve to be seen and be better known. I can say, without hesitation, that, after The Lady Vanishes, this one is my second favourite British Hitchcock’s film. It’s a real entertainment and it can only make you want to see more of his early work.
If you haven’t seen it, I invite you to do so, it’s only 1h20 😉
A big thanks to Terence from A Shroud of Thoughts for, once again, hosting this amazing event. As Always, it was a pleasure for me to review an Hitchcock’s film!
Don’t forget to read the other entries as well:
See you!
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