When Charley Moon (Max Bygraves) was a little boy in his English country village home, he never used to like performing, though the local vicar (Reginald Beckwith) was always jovially demanding that he appear in the frequent church concerts the man of the cloth was keen to stage many times across the year. Charley preferred to play with his friend Rose (Patricia Driscoll), but when they grew up she was more enthusiastic about establishing a closer relationship than he was. When he was due to attend to his National Service in the Army, she hoped he would open up and admit his feelings for her, but he just gave her a fish for her grandmother, and Rose was most upset. But a spell in the forces can change a man...
Well, it's not so much the military that has a benevolent effect on young Charley as it is the way in which he is thrown together with actor Harold Armytage to perform concert parties, he being played by Dennis Price who after his career high of Kind Hearts and Coronets was becoming used to supporting roles by this point in the fifties, as all the cast were very much backing Bygraves in this, one of his first star vehicles. He didn't make that many movies, as the theatre and television were the places you would most often see him and records, often his "SingalongaMax" releases, would be where you would hear him, but he remained a popular personality for decades with his old-fashioned, pleasant qualities.
Veteran songwriter Leslie Bricusse had a hand in both the script and the music here, though in truth the tunes were more functional than inspired, including one which summed up the unimpressed regard of showbiz that Charley never quite shakes off, where the lead character has no talent but makes it good on the then-new commercial television, as if that encapsulated how bankrupt the medium was for attracting and creating its celebrities. You could see that as a typical broadside from the movies to television, as the older entertainment never lost an opportunity to criticise its upstart cousin, yet in this case it was more from a source close to the variety theatre, which was also losing customers to the box.
In fact, by the end of it the only thing deemed acceptable in the frame of showbusiness is the travelling circus, really going far back in its search for a good night out, as Charley's suspicion that his chosen profession is not all it's cracked up to be grows ever stronger. It's all there in the opening sequence: he has the ability to perform, he's good at it, but what's the use of that if your heart isn't in it? Watching an hour and a half of what amounts to grumbling didn't make for one of the sunniest of musicals, certainly no competition to the Technicolor extravaganzas that were flooding out of Hollywood (this was in cheapo, newfangled Eastmancolor), and none of the ditties Max crooned were up there with such hits as Tulips from Amsterdam or the immortal Gilly Gilly Ossenfeffer Katzenellen Bogen By The Sea.
So what you were left with was a rather sorry for itself yarn which basically told the audience, east, west, home is best, and don't believe all you hear about the glamour of the entertainment industry because none of it is true. On the plus side, this did conjure up a very convincing mood of what it must have been like in the theatres back then, whether West End or the provinces, from moneygrubbing agents (regrettably here depicted as a very Jewish stereotype), tyrant impresarios, hangers on looking for a free drink and bubbleheaded starlets, in this case played by Shirley Eaton who director Guy Hamilton would remember from this and cast as the girl who gets covered in gold paint in classic Bond movie Goldfinger. The authenticity went some way to making Charley Moon historically worthy as television had its wicked way with theatre during this decade and variety was never the same, and there were many well-known faces to notice, but it did make the protagonist's journey through life fairly pointless if he was going to end up back at square one sorry he ever left home.
[Network's DVD has a nice restored print in slightly muted colours, and a trailer and gallery as extras.]