April 24, 2014

Films

As Long as They’re Happy – 1955 | 91 mins | Musical | Colour

Plot Synopsis

As Long as They're Happy

American singing sensation Bobby Denver ‘the crying crooner’ (whose tearful singing technique has a traumatic effect on females, schoolgirls and little old ladies alike) arrives on the Queen Elizabeth to sing in London for the first time. He stays at 35 Acacia Avenue, Wimbledon London SW19, the home of stockbroker John Bentley. His arrival has an amazing effect on all females in the household, including his wife Stella (a former actress), the maid Linda (who has the habit of fainting at the sight of Bobby), and especially his three daughters: Patricia (a vivacious redhead, who with her husband Peter, has adopted a bohemian lifestyle in Paris before she returned to London, and frequently adopts yoga type postures), Corinne (who returns to London from Texas with cowboy husband Barnaby, complete with horse and full cowboy gear), and sixteen-year-old Gwen, who is infatuated with Bobby, and declares that she is in love with him. The house is thrown into chaos, and John, who likes an orderly existence, seeks the help of a crazy psychiatrist, Dr. Schneider, who labels crooners as ‘cardboard lovers for frustrated wives’. As a cure he invents a water cistern which he calls ‘The Bobby Denver’ to cure the girls of their obsession. By the end of the film, Bobby Denver manages to reunite John and Stella and he also causes Patricia and Peter to give up their bohemian lifestyle. Bobby also reveals to Gwen the secret of his crying crooner technique (a hidden onion!) together with the fact that he is married. Gwen, tearful, exposes this to the newspapers, but it does Bobby no harm at all, for there is no such thing as bad publicity.

In hindsight, the British cinema of the 1950′s can be seen as the golden age of the formula film. The high spending (as well as the originality and artistic experiment) of some films of the 1940s, and later the 1960s, were out of favour, and the aim of Rank films of the 1950s was simply to produce quality popular entertainment. This film, made in the middle of the decade, is a fine example of a Rank Organisation Pinewood comedy. It displays all the confidence of the Rank Organisation in its fifties prime, the era of middle class/middlebrow comedy, Rank starlets, fan magazines, glamour photographs, Pinewood Garden parties, and a continuous output of films from the studio. ‘As Long As They’re Happy’ is even confident enough to have several references to ‘Mr Rank’ in the script, at a time when JAR was still head of production. Even that leading member of the Rank ‘family’ of the 1950s Norman Wisdom, appears at the door of the Bentley household at the end of the film, and just has time to sing his signature number ‘Don’t Laugh at me, Cause I’m a Fool’. And the film ends with Gwen switching her devotion from Bobby Denver to Norman, who she now calls ‘darling’.

Jerry Wayne, a star of the 1950’s West End production of Guys and Dolls (from which, incidentally, he recorded four songs, on two Philips 78s) with a strong attractive voice, plays Bobby Denver. The Bobby Denver character is, of course, a direct satire on the early 1950s cult of real life American sobbing crooner Johnny Ray, and the film even features one of his greatest hits ‘Cry’. It is also full of many other 1950′s references; Marlon Brando, Gene Kelly, 1950′s existentialists/bohemians in Paris (See Funny Face (1956) for more satire on this topic), Abbott and Costello, Frankie Laine, Billy Daniels, The Embassy Club, ”Val Parnell presents” , “The London Hippodrome”, as well as several references to ‘Mr Rank’. It has a witty screenplay by Alan Melville, adapted from the hit West End comedy of the same name by Vernon Sylvaine, with jokes about popular/highbrow culture (a symphony by Picasso etc.). It has nice satire on Americans in England – at his London press conference, Bobby says: ‘I want to see something of your wonderful country: London, Stratford, Scotland – towns like that!’ The three daughters are played by Jeannie Carson (Patricia) a vivacious redhead, who is slightly older and more cool towards Bobby Denver. She has intellectual pretensions, but is persuaded to give them up, and we last see her husband Peter wearing a city suit, and seeking a respectable career in ‘insurance’- something about the triumph of 1950s values here, I think…… Susan Stephen (as Corinne) is cast again as the perfect ‘English Rose’ type, and Janette Scott plays Gwen, sixteen years old, impressionable and most infatuated with Bobby Denver.

She has a lovely scene with Bobby where she keeps calling him ‘darling’. The supporting cast of this film is also wonderful. Many fondly remembered 1950s faces make brief appearances in cameo roles: Richard Wattis (backstage at the theatre), Dora Bryan (as the girl in a lift who wants to swap Billy Daniels bow tie for Frankie Laine’s trouser buttons), Joan Hickson (as a barmaid), Athene Syler (as the neighbour), Nigel Green (nicely playing Peter- a very 1950s bearded bohemian type who arrives at the Bentley house demanding ‘Where’s my Woman?’), Diana Dors as ‘actress’ (or ‘brazen hussy’ as Stella calls her) Pearl Delaney, is at her most voluptuous, as she performs ‘Come Do the Hokey-Pokey Polka’, and 1950s BBC television personality Gilbert Harding also appears. There is a 1950′s in-joke here (which may be lost on today’s audiences): Gilbert Harding, against his better judgement, cannot hold back the tears during Bobby’s singing at the London Hippodrome. A little old lady sitting next to him (played by Edie Martin from The Ladykillers) says to Gilbert: ‘Do you dig him?’ Gilbert tartly replies: ‘I’d bury him’, Little Old Lady: ‘You rude man!’. Other members of the theatre audience include Ronnie Stevens (from the ‘Dentist’ films, George Minter’s response to the successful Doctor comedies) as an fanatical Bobby Denver fan with a nasty cold, and a super cameo by besotted fan Charles Hawtrey, who says of Bobby Denver: ‘He’s wonderful, man – I DIG him!’ Other future ‘Carry On’ stars appearing include Joan Sims (as Linda, the fainting maid) and Hattie Jacques (in the party scene).

The songs (by Sam Coslow, except the final one) are all attractive, mainly in the style of 1950s ballads. They are: You Started Something (Jerry Wayne) (JW); Quiet Little Rendevous (Jeannie Carson) (JC); I Love the Morning (Jack Buchanan); I Don’t Know whether to Laugh or to Cry Over You (JW); The light that Lies in Liza’s Eyes(JW); Crazy Little Mixed Up Heart (JC); Cry(JW); Be My Guest(JW); Come Do The Hokey-Pokey Polka (Diana Dors); Cry (Reprised by Jack Buchanan at the party in a very low vocal register); I Hate the Morning (Reprise)(JB); I Don’t Know whether to Laugh or to Cry Over You (JB), and ‘Don’t Laugh at Me ’cause I’m a Fool’ (Norman Wisdom). The choreography for two staged numbers is by Paddy Stone and Irving Davies. ‘Crazy Little Mixed Up Heart’ is performed by Jeannie Carson and relates to her relationship with Peter. It commences with Jeannie leaning on a tree and moves into a fantasy dance sequence, which starts on a park ride with Paddy Stone (with beard). And Irving Davies, with all dressed in white. They also staged ‘I Don’t Know whether to Laugh or to Cry Over You’ (as it is transformed into something quite magical by Jack Buchanan in a valedictory performance at the end of the film, with a brief solo dance by Jack, who is then joined in an up tempo jazzy routine by the maid, Joan Sims). In this sequence, there is a wonderful moment when JB picks the telephone and says, ‘Gene Kelly speaking’.

In this last musical performance on film, Jack Buchanan displays masterful timing throughout (he only made one more film, the French made, “The Diaries of Major Thompson” with Katie Boyle, before his death in 1957). He is most ably partnered by Brenda de Banzie, as Stella, an ex-actress, who ‘longs to return to the theatre’ She is the perfect foil as she over-dramatises, quoting lines from Hedda Gabler on her return to the house, as Jack’s ‘party’ is in full swing. Her tone of voice perfectly matches his and their scenes together are a delight, especially the scene at the end, where timing a delivery are perfect. This is an exceptionally good-natured entertaining comedy, finely played by an excellent cast. It is also attractively mounted, although the television copy (from Eastman Colour) was not in particularly good shape, being a little faded in part. Interestingly, Bobby’s TV show in the film is in colour (in 1955! in England!). Filmed at Pinewood.

Review ©Roger Mellor.

Production Team

J. Lee Thompson: Director
Michael Stringer: Art Direction
Paddy Stone: Choreography
Irving Davies: Choreography
Gilbert Taylor: Cinematography
Yvonne Caffin: Costumes
John D Guthridge: Editing
Earl St John: Executive Producer
WT Partleton: Make-Up Dept
Stanley Black: Original Music
Raymond Stross: Producer
Jack Swinburne: Production Management
Alan Melville: Script
Sam Coslow: Songs
John Dennis: Sound
Gordon K McCallum: Sound
Roger Cherrill: Sound

Cast

Jack Buchanan: John Bentley
Janette Scott: Gwen
Jean Carson: Pat
Brenda De Banzie: Stella
Susan Stephen: Corinne
Jerry Wayne: Bobby Denver
Diana Dors: Pearl
Hugh McDermott: Barnaby Brady
David Hurst: Dr Schneider
Athene Seyler: Mrs Arbuthnot
Joan Sims: Linda
Nigel Green: Peter
Dora Bryan: May
Gilbert Harding: Guest
Edie Martin: Elderly Fan
Joan Hickson: Barmaid
Richard Wattis: Theatre Stage Manager
Charles Hawtrey: Irate Fan



blog comments powered by Disqus