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  Spring in Park Lane Mistress And Servant
Year: 1948
Director: Herbert Wilcox
Stars: Anna Neagle, Michael Wilding, Tom Walls, Peter Graves, Marjorie Fielding, Nigel Patrick, G.H. Mulcaster, Josephine Fitzgerald, Lana Morris, Nicholas Phipps, Catherine Paul
Genre: Comedy, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Judy Howard (Anna Neagle) arrives at the Park Lane address of her employer, who also happens to be her Uncle Joshua (Tom Walls), but she's forgotten her key so rings the doorbell. To her surprise a very forward young man appears and starts asking her all sorts of impertinent questions; she manages to coax it out of him that he is Richard (Michael Wilding), the new footman who is answering the door instead of the usual butler, and Judy doesn't know whether to be amused or offended by his personality. Whichever, once the introductions are over with she settles in her office and tells Richard to let people know Joshua will be returning from a business trip in a few days - but a lot can happen in that time.

The husband and wife team of Anna Neagle and her director and producer Herbert Wilcox was, in spite of the points they ran out of money, one of the most successful British cinema ever saw. The popular conception of the low regard local audiences had for their national film industry in comparison with the Hollywood movie machine was belied by the way the public would show up for just about every picture this couple created; Neagle was an absolute megastar and a guarantee of a production making its money back at the box office for a good few years, switching between costume dramas which recreated history and lighter comedies and musicals. Everything the future Dame Anna touched turned to gold.

Of course, the hits dried up eventually and she returned to the theatre where she was still a strong attraction, yet her renown as a movie star fell away across the passage of time and her name, once one of the most recognisable in the United Kingdom, was only really recalled by those who took an express interest in the cinema of the past. Quite a change from Spring in Park Lane which if numbers of tickets sold were taken into account remained in the top five most successful films ever released in Britain, with almost half the population of the country flocking to their local picture palace for some much-needed escapism from the austerity of the post-war experience.

In her light, romantic comedies, of which this was one, she was frequently paired with Michael Wilding, a tall, handsome and dashing presence on the screen for a good few decades, though he always professed to detest the profession which many put down to his terrible nerves, none of which came across in his confident performances. Nowadays if anyone remembers him it is thanks to him being one of Elizabeth Taylor's many husbands for a while in the fifties which raised eyebrows at the time thanks to a twenty year age difference, but you can see what made him an eligible chap when you watch his devil may care qualities in this, probably his most successful film and the one which captured what prompted so many female fans to want to see him win the heart of Anna.

In fact, this was such a candyfloss confection it threatened to be whisked away by a strong breeze, and therefore perfect for an audience to forget their cares for ninety minutes and imagine themselves in the arms of either of the leads. Richard was cannily scripted by Nicholas Phipps (who also had a role as a dullard nobleman) to straddle the British class system, so that he knows a fake painting when he sees one, but can also tell the conman where to go in rather coarse terms (no swearing though, naturally), thereby offering up the sort of entertainment that remains popular from Upstairs Downstairs to Downton Abbey, only with more of a sense of humour. Springtime in Park Lane wasn't fall off your chair hilarious, but it had a warm charm about it that brought out more than a few chuckles, and when it turned swoonsome with Judy and Richard sharing a dance in the garden so the toffs won't see, then showed they knew how to have fun by having them "boogie woogie" at a dance hall, it was easy to see the appeal. Of its time maybe, but it had lost little of its glamour.

[The Network DVD is in excellent condition, the only extra is a gallery, but the film's fans will be pleased it finally made it onto disc.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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