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.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Those good companions

Two versions of THE GOOD COMPANIONS: That 1933 musical by Victor Saville with Jessie Matthews headlining, and - a real oddity now - the 1957 English musical, directed by J. Lee Thompson. Both versions are adapted from J.B. Priestley's famous novel charting the ups and downs of a struggling touring concert troupe "The Dinky Doos" - The future looks bleak for them when their manager runs off with the funds and dwindling audiences force the theatre owner to close their show. Young Susie Dean is particularly disconsolate: the talented singer and dancer is sure the setback will mean an end to her theatrical career. However, a chance meeting of three strangers could bring about a big change in the fortunes of the little company... 
Enter Miss Trant, Inigo Jollifant and Jess Oakroyd, three people on the road and changing their circumstances. Miss Trant is a spinster with a car, which Jess mends for her - he has left home and his nagging wife when he was laid off at work; Inigo is a school-teacher who has rebelled and walked out and has a talent for writing songs ... They meet up with the travelling players The Dinky Doos, a pierrot group, and soon re-vitalise them. Inigo and Susie Dean become an item, but she wants to be a famous star, and thinks Inigo "feeble". He shows her by getting famous impressario Monte Mortimer (Finlay Currie, bluff as ever) to visit to see her act, the very evening a rival theatre-owner decides to wreck their performance. It all comes right in the end of course. Susie and Inigo are a success, Miss Trant finds her lost love, Jess gets off to Canada to visit his daughter and The Dinky Doos are a success again.

This is a delicious entertainment and the English 1930s in aspic. Jessie Matthews (rather shrill at first) is totally perfect as Susie singing that song "Let Me Give My Happiness To You", and is like an art deco figure as she flings her legs about and dances (see 1930s label for her FIRST A GIRL). The young John Gielgud in that hat and raincoat  has just the right gravitas for Inigo, and Edmund Gwynn is Jess to the manner born.

The 1957 remake by comparison is a nightmare where nothing looks or feels right. It may be in Cinemascope and Colour but in its way is more dated than the '30s version. The young lovers here are to the forefront, and as played by Janette Scott (cloyingly winsome) and John Fraser they look like any ordinary '50s teenagers. Scott is the daughter of veteran Thora Hird (who also plays here) and was a good Cassandra in HELEN OF TROY in 1955, Fraser was an effective Bosie in the Peter Finch TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE in 1960, and that warring prince in EL CID among other good parts. They are totally nondescript here though.
There's also Rachel Roberts as a brassy showgirl (her "The Gentleman is a Heel" number is a camp riot), Hugh Griffiths, Shirley Anne Field, Joyce Grenfell, Marjorie Rhodes, Mona Washbourne, Fabia Drake, John LeMesurier, Anthony Newley, Carole Lesley; with Celia Johnson good as Miss Trant, and Eric Portman as Jess. It tries hard to copy those Hollywood big production numbers (like right) which fall very flat here ...theres also that very camp number "Where There's You, There's Me" sung by the very camp lead dancer ...

I saw this 1957 version as a kid and could barely remember it, it never appeared anywhere since until this new dvd. Curiosity value certainly for anyone who likes the '50s, but the original 1930s version is the real deal. I do not know much of J.B. Priestley's work, but remember a good BBC serial of his ANGEL PAVEMENT which would be good to see again. 
J. Lee Thompson did some terrific action movies (NORTH WEST FRONTIER, GUNS OF NAVARONE, TIGER BAY, CAPE FEAR) as well as comedies like my favourite AN ALLIGATOR NAMED DAISY, and interesting dramas such as YIELD TO THE NIGHT, WOMAN IN A DRESSING GOWN, THE WEAK AND THE WICKED as well as this GOOD COMPANIONS misfire.
Right: Rachel lets rip ...

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