Monday, 13 January 2014

For fans of Stanley Lupino:

The recent reissue of the Ealing Studio’s output from the 1930s has finally given film fans an opportunity to see films by singer/dancer/comedian/actor/writer/producer Stanley Lupino (1993 to 1948). Lupino was a man who tried just about everything: he started life on the stage as an acrobat, appeared in films, stage reviews and latterly starred in BBC radio broadcasts.  According to the ‘Third Banana’ blog,   Lupino was a:
“highly-strung, temperamental hypochondriac, dabbling in spiritualism (through loneliness, when his wife Connie went to Hollywood with Ida), claiming to be in communication with the ghost of Dan Leno, and frequently threatening not to go onstage due to some mystery ailment. Actually he wasn't kidding. It was cancer that eventually got him, in his late forties, so he's forgotten today; and that's a disgrace. He's buried, appropriately enough, near his idol Dan Leno.”

Cheer Up (1936)

Roddy Hughes & Stanley Lupino
While some filmmakers seek to educate and enlighten their audiences (see The Violent Playground) others seek to do nothing more than entertain them. And with the title ‘Cheer Up’, it’s clear which camp the makers of this long forgotten British musical were in. Whilst they made a tale that centred around economic hardship, it’s a cheery tale in which everything turns out well – after the audience have been treated to numerous song and dance sequences.

Roddy Hughes, Wyn Weaver & Stanley Lupino


It’s the story of a struggling songwriting duo, Ton Denham (Stanley Lupino) and Dick Dirk (Roddy Hughes). Unable to find a backer for their latest musical, they are down on their luck: they’ve pawned their suits, can’t afford to eat and are behind with their rent. They are reduced to making up songs in a café in an attempt to get a free meal:
"Steak and Kidney pudding, I adore you, Come back to me darling, I implore you ...."

Then there’s Sally Gray, playing an actress singer named – for some curious reason – Sally Gray ...
Sally Gray; "The sort of girl that would make an army veteran feel like a Boy Scout."

... who can’t find work and is forced to take employment as a maid to Mr and Mrs Carter (Wyn Weaver & Marjorie Chard) who are also down on their luck after his business has collapsed. This being a feelgood musical, Tom Denham’s hunt for a backer leads him to Mr Carter and Sally Gray, and eventually a series of misunderstandings lead a wealthy impresario’s son Wilfred Harman (played by Kenneth Kove) ...
Kenneth Kove

... to invest in Tom and Dick’s show. As you might expect, Tom and Sally fall in love ...
Stanley Lupino & Sally Gray

... and the show is a resounding success.

The film is more lavish than some other British musicals of the period. In one dance sequence Sally and Tom are sitting at a dinner table with a large, elaborately decorated wedding cake in the middle (don’t ask me why). They take the figures from the top of the cake, place them on the table, then the scene fades into a close-up of the cake with the figures transformed into Sally and Tom who dance around a set that mimmicks the table top, complete with giant matchbox, cigar and ashtray.

The sets were designed by J.Elder Wills, who also worked as a director, having made films with such as stars as Paul Robeson and Anna Mae Wong. During World War 2 Wills served in the British Army and rose to the rank of colonel. He used his experience of set design to become a specialist in camouflage. In 1957 a book ‘Sabotage’ was written about his work which had centred on making disguised weapons and explosives for use by SOE agents. Among his team’s work were bombs designed as camel dung and exploding milk bottles.

This being 1936, the film also showcases some very fine suits. In the mid 1930s British men’s fashions led the world and shirts, ties and socks were increasingly available in new, brighter colours. Although it’s difficult to see this in a black and white film, the light colours of the suits and the fancy details (such as double breasted waistcoats on single breasted suits) are a good indication of the fashions.


The final dance sequence is interesting: We see Tom dancing around London, his antics leading the people around him (policemen, barristers, Boy Scouts, Chelsea Pensioners and elderly city workers) all join in the dancing.

Tom and Sally then end up dancing on a rooftop.
"I've heard a lot about Gay Paris, or some other foreign abode, But you can fall in love just as well in the Old Kent Road."
As I watched this sequence I was immediately struck by the similarity to the dance sequences in Mary Poppins where Dick Van Dyke dances on the rooftops and then when the ageing bankers dance in the streets. One has to wonder whether the director of Mary Poppins, Robert Stevenson, had seen Cheer Up? He was working in the film industry in London in the 1930s and joined Ealing Studios (where Cheer Up had been filmed) in 1938. It’s a long shot, but I think it’s possible that this sequence might have inspired him.

Talking of inspiration: I suppose it’s too much of a long shot to claim that Sally Gray’s skirt-ripping-off dance number went on to inspire Bucks Fizz?
Sally Gray's legs

Sally Gray's legs
Cheer Up is also worth watching for a brief glimpse of an uncredited Charles Hawtrey as a dancing Boy Scout in closing scene:
Charles Hawtrey
According to IMDB Terry-Thomas also appeared in the film in an uncredited role as a dancer. I couldn’t see him. If you want to try, the film is currently available as part of Network DVD’s Ealing Rarities collection:
Honeymoon for Three (1935)

Also available in the same series is Honeymoon for Three, another film written by and starring Stanley Lupino. Directed by Leo Mittler, it's a rather standard piece of lightweight musical comedy, it is far less memorable than other Lupino films, such as Cheer Up or Over She Goes. It’s the story of Jack Denver (Stanley Lupino) a playboy who enjoys the highlife courtesy of an allowance he receives from his uncle. And, being a 1930s nightclubbing playboy, he plays champagne draughts ...
Stanley Lupino
... and enjoys a good sing-along:
Stanley Lupino

After a night of partying, he drunkenly stumbles into the apartment of Yvonne Daumery (Aileen Marson) ...

Aileen Marson

... stays the night, and is discovered there the next morning by her father. Forced to marry to prevent a scandal, the couple go on honeymoon with her fiancée Raymond Dirk (Jack Melford)...

Jack Melford

... divorce when they arrive in New York, then fall in love on the way back home across the Atlantic (with the now impoverished Jack having to work as a steward). But then, you expected that.
Stanley Lupino, Jack Melford & Aileen Marson

The plot is predictable and the songs are hardly memorable, but at just over 70 minutes, it’s still worth watching. As with Cheer Up, it provides a good idea of the fashions of the period ...

.... and you get to see dancing sailors:
Of course, this being a British film of the 1930s, it was essential that the leading lady should appear in her underwear, with Aileen Marson seen sitting on her bed removing her garters and stockings (while singing a utterly forgettable song):
Aileen Marson

Aileen Marson
However, for once the emphasis isn't just on the female. Immediately after Marson appears in her underwear, we are treated to the sight of Lupino and Melford showing off their legs:
Stanley Lupino & Jack Melford
 To be honest, I doubt if the audience found that quite so exciting.




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