Monday, 26 August 2013

The Beloved Vagabond (1936)
Maurice Chevalier
The film is available as part of volume five of The Ealing Studios Rarities Collection, which has been put together by Network DVD to finally make available some forgotten films from the 1930s before the launch of the 'Ealing Studios' brand, along with some of the studios lesser known, and generally unavailable, output. It's an effort that must involve rather a lot of hard work and have limited rewards, yet must be applauded for making so many films available for the first time.
The first thing I noticed about this film was that it starred Margaret Lockwood, possibly one of the biggest stars ever to grace the British cinema screens. Then I noticed that she was billed below Betty Stockfeld, who was obviously  a much bigger star at the time and yet whose name is known to none but those with a most dedicated interest in British cinema.
Betty Stockfeld
Despite the billing, there's no doubting the identity of the female lead. Stockfeld is reduced to segments opening and closing the film, whilst it is Lockwood - as an orphaned French travelling musician - who has the bulk of the screen time opposite Chevalier.
Margaret Lockwood

Set in 1900, the film follows a struggling French architect (Chevalier) who, after his plan to marry Betty Stockfeld is thwarted, leaves London and returns to France where he teams up with Lockwood and they tour the countryside singing and playing at village fairs and country inns. Unusually for British films of the period, filming of The Beloved Vagabond wasn't restricted to the studio and there are both numerous outdoor scenes  and scenes filmed on location in what appears to be France.
The transformation of Lockwood from a shy teenage orphan to a beautiful woman who steals Chevalier's heart is perhaps slightly obvious, but it is still fun. For fans of British cinema it is perhaps most interesting just to get an early glimpse of Lockwood as she takes the first steps towards being the beautifully dominant force that she was in the years ahead. Her attempts to walk like a Parisian, rather than a country girl, are played for laughs ...
Margret Lockwood
... as is the nightclub scene where she sees an older man with two young women and naively believes them to be his daughters ...
... and her first taste of champagne prompts a nicely quotable line from Chevalier:
Maurice Chevalier & Margaret Lockwood
"Champagne is dangerous stuff. See those bubbles, those are all your secrets. When you drink, they burst and out pops the truth."
Chevalier is a man caught between two cultures: British high society, into which he plans to marry, and France where he enjoys his freedom. The film makers happily ridicule British society and present France as a land of freedom. As Chevalier tells Stockfeld when she criticises his behaviour: "For a moment I was natural, is that a crime here?'
His status as an outsider is confirmed by his dress. He appears at his wedding in an individualistic take on fashion of the period:
Maurice Chevalier
 His style contrasts with the formality of his British love rival:
It is Chevalier's clothing that eventually seals his fate, gives the film its best line, and sees him cancel his wedding to Stockfeld to return to France with Lockwood. At a party for the wedding Stockfeld and her friend comment on his unconventional choice of tie:
Maurice Chevalier
He tells her: "Is my future happiness going to depend on a tie."
To which her friend replies: "Either you've chosen the wrong tie to go with the wife or the wrong wife to go with the tie."
The comment finally makes him see what the audience had known for some time, that he is really in love with Lockwood.
A lightweight comedy, musical drama? Yes. A deep intellectual study of a man caught between two women and their respective cultures? No.
And, more to the point, it's fun.
Oh yes, and for those viewers who like a bit a glamour, Lockwood appears is her underwear:
Maurice Chevalier and Margaret Lockwood

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