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Were the British good at musicals?

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We do not tend to think of British musicals when we think of musicals. At least I usually do not. 

 

But this morning on Amazon Prime, I watched HAPPY GO LOVELY-- a cute musical Vera-Ellen did in England with David Niven, Cesar Romero and various British performers. TCM has aired this title before, but I guess I didn't really pay much attention to it previously. It's very entertaining and good.

 

And it leads to my question about British musicals in general. Were the Brits known for producing many good examples in this genre? If so, I'd appreciate any recommendations. Thanks!

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The first to come to mind is "Oliver!", which won the Oscar for Best Picture.

Thanks Terrence. Excellent film. But I was thinking of earlier ones, maybe from the 30s, 40s or 50s. Are there any worth seeking out?

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We do not tend to think of British musicals when we think of musicals. At least I usually do not. 

 

But this morning on Amazon Prime, I watched HAPPY GO LOVELY-- a cute musical Vera-Ellen did in England with David Niven, Cesar Romero and various British performers. TCM has aired this title before, but I guess I didn't really pay much attention to it previously. It's very entertaining and good.

 

And it leads to my question about British musicals in general. Were the Brits known for producing many good examples in this genre? If so, I'd appreciate any recommendations. Thanks!

I've been sort of waiting along with you, hoping that someone could answer this. It's a good question. "Happy Go Lovely" is the only one I've seen as well and I don't even know the names of any British musical stars to look up in the data base for possible leads. Part of the problem may be that so many of the "British" films we know, like "Mrs.Miniver", "Random Harvest", even the Sherlock Holmes films were actually American productions. I wonder if something like "Brief Encounter" played in American theaters or if it's only through occasional television showings in the years since then that we know it. I know American films showed there, but it doesn't seem to have been a two-way street particularly. When I first started going to movies alone, the Ealing comedies were shown, but mostly in "art" houses along with imports from France and Italy. Things like "The Lonliness of the Long Distance Runner" played in art houses, but I think "To Sir, With Love" and "Georgy Girl" made it to some local American theaters, maybe because the pop music scores paved the way for them. The first British film I remember seeing in a local theater was "The Mouse That Roared". Later, the Hammer horror films and James Bond made the rounds of neighborhood theaters. 

 

Anyway, your question was about musicals. If there were significant British musicals we don't know about, it might have to do with differences in taste and style. For the most part, I always felt like the British Technicolor palette was kind of pale and washed-out compared to, say, a Betty Grable film. It wasn't until I saw restored prints of movies like "The Red Shoes" years later that I started to appreciate it. Also, British musical taste probably came out of the music hall performance style, which was unfamiliar to many Americans.

 

I hope someone can talk about this and I'm waiting along with you to hear.

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I've been sort of waiting along with you, hoping that someone could answer this. It's a good question. "Happy Go Lovely" is the only one I've seen as well and I don't even know the names of any British musical stars to look up in the data base for possible leads. Part of the problem may be that so many of the "British" films we know, like "Mrs.Miniver", "Random Harvest", even the Sherlock Holmes films were actually American productions. I wonder if something like "Brief Encounter" played in American theaters or if it's only through occasional television showings in the years since then that we know it. I know American films showed there, but it doesn't seem to have been a two-way street particularly. When I first started going to movies alone, the Ealing comedies were shown, but mostly in "art" houses along with imports from France and Italy. Things like "The Lonliness of the Long Distance Runner" played in art houses, but I think "To Sir, With Love" and "Georgy Girl" made it to some local American theaters, maybe because the pop music scores paved the way for them. The first British film I remember seeing in a local theater was "The Mouse That Roared". Later, the Hammer horror films and James Bond made the rounds of neighborhood theaters. 

 

Anyway, your question was about musicals. If there were significant British musicals we don't know about, it might have to do with differences in taste and style. For the most part, I always felt like the British Technicolor palette was kind of pale and washed-out compared to, say, a Betty Grable film. It wasn't until I saw restored prints of movies like "The Red Shoes" years later that I started to appreciate it. Also, British musical taste probably came out of the music hall performance style, which was unfamiliar to many Americans.

 

I hope someone can talk about this and I'm waiting along with you to hear.

Great post. I was afraid my starting this thread would indicate some ignorance on my part-- but maybe I am ignorant about British musicals, and that's why I want to know more.

 

I think in the 1930s, Gracie Fields made a name for herself doing comedies that sometimes had musical elements in them. And Jessie Matthews was a singer and dancer in the same period, but I have only seen one of her films and I don't remember being bowled over by any large-scale musical numbers. 

 

Someone like Gertrude Lawrence did musical theatre, but alas, I am not too familiar with her film output.

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...And Jessie Matthews was a singer and dancer in the same period, but I have only seen one of her films and I don't remember being bowled over by any large-scale musical numbers. 

 

 

Jessie Matthews is wonderful! Definitely check out more of her films, especially EVERGREEN (1934).

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Jessie Matthews is wonderful! Definitely check out more of her films, especially EVERGREEN (1934).

Thanks musicalnovelty for mentioning that film. I remember TCM playing it once a few years ago, but because I did not recognize any of the stars, I did not watch it. An apparent mistake.

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Both the Jessie Matthews musicals on Amazon Prime were taken down recently. I should have made it a priority to watch SAILING ALONG while it was still available. I've seen FIRST A GIRL, when it last aired on TCM...but not SAILING ALONG. Hopefully, Amazon will bring these titles (plus a few more Jessie Matthews movies) back in the near future.

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The biggest star of depression-era and war-era England was George Formby, worthy successor to his father, who was a star of British music hall. He got his start there, too, singing comical, innuendo-laden songs, and accompanying himself on banjolele after Cliff Edwards introduced the instrument to him (and everyone else.) He was tops among the uke players, and his popularity has maintained, an' how!

 

He made a lot of movies, playing a well-developed ignorant, innocent, buffoonish character that fit him like a glove. He had a remarkable face, the kind that was sent by the heavens for comedy, with all the buoyancy of a trampoline and an infectious grin. I always hate to use terms like 'acquired taste' or 'not for everyone,' because really, isn't everything? Still, his style might grate more than usual on some. I very fond of him, indeed.*

 

(Dang it, my favorite, Fanlight Fanny, has been removed from YT. Damn your grabby estate, George! Oh well, here's a different one...)

 

 

(Edit: *Just to let you know, my dad played his music a lot when I was a kid and I hated him! I couldn't even be in the same room. Then, remarkably, I grew up and got a sense of humor.)

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He made a lot of movies, playing a well-developed ignorant, innocent, buffoonish character that fit him like a glove. He had a remarkable face, the kind that was sent by the heavens for comedy, with all the buoyancy of a trampoline and an infectious grin. 

I love the way you described his face so perfectly. And thanks for providing the clip. 

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Just wanted to say that two Jessie Matthews musicals have been added to Amazon Prime-- SAILING ALONG and FIRST A GIRL.

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I'd say The Red Shoes is a musical-dance melodrama--definitely not a musical.  Songs are a major component, often THE major component of a musical.  No songs in The Red Shoes; though it is a true masterpiece, and gorgeous in the Technicolor restoration we have in recent decades.

The few pre-1960's British musicals I've watched (acually started to watch, since I could not get into them) paled next to many American musicals.  This is partially because their production values were very inferior, they were targeted at a British audience and lack appeal to those not steeped in the authentic British culture, and because the prints/video transfers of the ones I've come across are poor.  And let's face it, they didn't have Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Busby Berkeley, etc. etc.

 

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On Sunday the 23rd of September TCM will be broadcasting two British musical comedies starring Anna Neagle:

SPRING IN PARK LANE (1948) and MAYTIME IN MAYFAIR (1949).

Both feature her with Michael Wilding. They were huge hits.

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screen-shot-2015-11-15-at-2-29-08-pm.jpg

Tomorrow night on TCM:

ANNA NEAGLE & MICHAEL WILDING

Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 6.11.14 PM.jpg

8:00 p.m. Spring in Park Lane (1948)

10:00 p.m. Maytime in Mayfair (1949)

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