Sunday, 2 March 2014

Red Wagon (1934)
Jimmy Hanley in his first screen role.
Made in 1933 but not released until January 1934, Red Wagon is by no means one of the best British films of the period. It was based on a novel by Lady Eleanor Smith whose books also formed the basis for Gainsborough Studios' Caravan and The Man in Grey. However, it is interesting for a number of reasons, in particular the first screen appearance of Jimmy Hanley, who went on to become one of Britain's most popular actors of the 1930s and 1940s.
Jimmy Hanley in his first screen role.
In Red Wagon Hanley appears as the young Joe Prince, the son of circus performers who are murdered whilst touring in the USA:
He returns home, ends up in an orphanage, then runs away to join the circus - after having been told that he should drop his "wild gypsy ideas" and settle down as a grocer. However Joe can't give up his dreams since he has a tattoo with the words 'Circus First' inked by his father when he was a child:

After finding a circus and learning his trade as a trick rider ...
... he grows up into an international star (with Charles Bickford playing the mature Joe Prince) ...
Charles Bickford
... takes over the circus and struggles to keep it afloat as he juggles competition from a rival circus (owned by Cranley, played by Francis L. Sullivan) ...
Francis L. Sullivan
... love rivalry from his best friend Toby (Anthony Bushell)...
Anthony Bushell
... a devious gypsy wife (played by Raquel Torres who had previously appeared with the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup) ...
Raquel Torres
... and love for his star attraction, the tiger taming Zara (Greta Nissen - the Norwegian actress whose strong accent cost her a role in Hells Angels. The role instead provided a big break to another blonde, Jean Harlow ... and the rest is history.):
Greta Nissen
Whilst the story is rather straightforward, the film is of particular interest since it gives some idea of circus life in the early 1930s, with glimpses of how circuses operated and the type of performers who appeared:

However, as someone with a particular interest in period fashions, it was interesting to see the jackets worn by Bickford and Bushell in the film. Collectors of vintage clothing will tell you that British belt-back jackets are rather rare. It appears that, whilst collectors tend to adore them, belt-backs were just not that popular meaning there are few now surviving. However, in Red Wagon we see not one, but two examples of the fashion:
In this photo we see Bickford wearing a jacket with  belt but with any pleats, whilst Bushell wears the more exaggerated 'fancy back' style complete with 'action back' pleats and a scalloped yoke:
Here's another view of the rear of Bickford's jacket ...
... and here's another view of Bushell:
It's interesting to note that during the 1930s some clothing companies offered customers more than half-a-dozen different styles of jacket back.
Bushell's jacket is also interesting in that it has two breast pockets:
Also appearing in the film are:
Alexander Field and Sybil Grove

Paul Graetz & Amy Veness

Ernest Sefton
Currently available from Network DVD:

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