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  Lilacs in the Spring Out Like FlynnBuy this film here.
Year: 1954
Director: Herbert Wilcox
Stars: Anna Neagle, Errol Flynn, David Farrar, Kathleen Harrison, Peter Graves, Helen Haye, Scott Sanders, Alma Taylor, Hetty King, Alan Gifford, Jennifer Mitchell, Gillian Harrison, George Margo, Stephen Boyd, Sam Kydd, Sean Connery
Genre: Musical, Drama, Romance
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: London stage actress Carole Beaumont (Anna Neagle) is the daughter of two titans of entertainment, her mother and musical legend Lillian Grey (also Neagle) and her father, the Hollywood superstar John Beaumont, known affectionately as Beau (Errol Flynn). She hasn't seen her father in years for she works in the Blitz-hit British capital and he is making movies in America, but perhaps it's time they reunited, though the Second World War is creating problems in that respect. But Carole has other issues when she's the object of desire for her producer, Charles King (David Farrar) and half-German soldier Albert Gutman (Peter Graves)...

Not the Peter Graves from Mission: Impossible, of course, the other one. Anyway, Anna Neagle and her director husband Herbert Wilcox served up plenty of what British audiences wanted to see for quite a while at the box office, which essentially was twee, quaint entertainment and lots of it, though by this time their partnership - obviously echoed in the relationship between her character and the Charles one in this little item - was beginning to look a little past it, especially in comparison to the brasher, more lively Hollywood musicals emerging from this time and cleaning up around the world. In a move to compete, Wilcox chose to shoot this one in colour, and import an actual, proper international star.

First, the film began in black and white then changed to colour as in The Wizard of Oz, a plot point underlined when Carole clonks her head on rubble when a V1 lands near the pub she's in, sending her off into a reverie as her companions try to revive her. It was no coincidence that she should envisage herself as Nell Gwynn, and Charles as King Charles, for that was the role which helped her on the road to fame, though that was a long time ago when this was made, but would not be the only reference to her past glories contained here, for she also appeared as a young Queen Victoria so she could imagine Herr Gutman as Prince Albert and dally with some business about how scandalous waltzing had been back then.

But what audiences were more interested in was the occasionally incredibly-trousered Neagle's co-star Errol Flynn, and the novelty of seeing him in a British musical (actually, British musicals were a novelty in themselves) where he got to do a spot of singing and dancing since his character was a music hall artiste. He wasn't exactly spectacular - though only forty-five, the wear and tear of alcoholism and depression were sending him to an early grave - but he did seem to be putting the effort in, and viewers responded warmly to his presence. What he really wanted to be doing was his dream project of William Tell, but that was never to be thanks to financial fiascos behind the scenes, among other things: that story would make a good film in itself.

It is rather strange to see Neagle play both the lead and the lead's mother, but it ensured she would never be far away from the limelight, even if the idea of Flynn romancing her in one scene and then being all paternal in later ones is something modern audiences would balk at. Ever the professional, even at her advancing years of fifty she still played it as if she were in her twenties, not what many stars would get away with even back then, no matter how some would try, and Neagle assuredly pranced around the screen during the production numbers then trilled the occasional songs as if time had never moved on for her. However, it was not only Hollywood showing up the U.K. studios' efforts as rather tatty in their attempts to compete, as you just had to look at the likes of the contemporary Ealing Studios to see Lilacs in the Spring as looking positively prehistoric today, and not much fresher back then. Still, as a form which nobody will ever revive except in parody, it held interest, if only for trying to spot Sean Connery. Music by Robert Farnon.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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