Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Exit Smiling

I first saw the 1926 silent EXIT SMILING back in my 20s at the old London National Film Theatre (now BFI Southbank) and was enchanted with Bea Lillie as the hapless heroine, the skivvy of that tatty touring group of theatricals. She played "nothing" in "Much Ado About Nothing".  It is now though available on Warner, and is just as amusing as I remember.

A maid who works for a traveling theatrical troupe wants desperately to be an actress, and manages to get some small roles in the company's productions, but is determined to do anything she can to show that she deserves a shot at the big time.

Beatrice Lillie's sparking screen debut! Running away to join the circus was a popular romantic sentiment in the 1920s for those wishing to escape life's drudgery. For wannabe actress Violet it was joining a third rate travelling actors troupe specialising in over-the-top melodramas. Too plain to play the vampy vixen, she was relegated to the menial but necessary tasks to keep the show afloat. She tutors and supports (and of course falls for) the handsome young man (Jack Pickford - Mary's brother) who becomes the male lead. This silent classic is a riveting time capsule into a pre-Depression world that will fascinate, draw tears and ultimately cheers ... 

Well thats the blurb. It is indeed a fascinating look at a vanished world of entertainment, as directed by Sam Taylor. Even silent, Lillie is the perfect clown - the business with the pearls and the boa are blissfully funny, as is her put-upon drudge who of course does not get her man.

I first encountered Lillie, as most did, as the wacky white slaver Mrs Meers "Sad to be all alone in the world" in THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE where she effortlessly stole the film from Julie and Mary and Carol - that is a perpetual pleasure. I like too her perfect clowning and diction in ON APPROVAL in 1943 and she and Franklin Pangborn (also funny here in EXIT SMILING) do that hilarious routine about the damask napkins in an otherwise unremarkable Bing Crosby film in 1947, DR RHYTHM. Bea's rare appearances (like in AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS) are to be cherished, like those of the very individual comediennes Carole Lombard, Kay Kendall or Joan Greenwood.What a fascinating life Lillie (1894-1989) led, with her showbiz pals like Noel Coward in the 20s and 30s when she was indeed "the funniest woman in the world".

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