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  Lady Godiva Rides Again The Price Of Beauty
Year: 1951
Director: Frank Launder
Stars: Dennis Price, John McCallum, Stanley Holloway, Pauline Stroud, Gladys Henson, Bernadette O'Farrell, George Cole, Diana Dors, Eddie Byrne, Kay Kendall, Renee Houston, Dora Bryan, Sid James, Richard Wattis, Michael Ripper, Alastair Sim, Dana Wynter
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Sunday in this town in the British Midlands, and it's raining again. The only places open are the churches, although if you wait long enough the cinemas will open that evening, which is where waitress Marjorie Clark (Pauline Stroud) is heading with her boyfriend Johnny (George Cole) so she can gaze deep into the eyes of her favourite film star Simon Abbott (Dennis Price) and be transported to exotic lands for an hour and a half. But there is a contest in the town to be held to commemorate Lady Godiva of legend, and the councillors want a young lady to parade in a pageant on horseback with nothing on but a long, flowing wig to preserve her modesty. Who will be lucky?

Except there's nothing lucky about it in Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat's unsentimental review of the beauty industry. Not the industry that will see to it the right cosmetics and fashion arrive in the world's beauty parlours, or modern equivalent, but the one that supplied the pretty faces to model for it, go on to appear in decorative roles in advertising, and go further to tread the boards on stage and graduate to television and film, if they were in possession of even a modicum of talent. Marjorie, our out of her depth heroine, is one such candidate for when she enters the contest to spite Johnny and her family, she ends up winning and to her bewilderment, is now considered a celebrity.

Had those producers made this film at the other end of the decade, it would have doubtless played out as a kitchen sink drama, think something along the lines of Laurence Olivier in The Entertainer, but they were better known for their comedies hence there were bits and pieces of humour dotted around the script. Not exactly zinger after zinger, but character moments designed to raise a laugh, yet they appeared to be a sop to the audience expecting an out and out comedy, for surprisingly for this team, this was fairly serious as an expose of their business. Now, Launder and Gilliat were very successful, sort of a saucier Ealing Studios, so it was odd to see them be so cynical about that success.

Maybe they had simply seen too many attractive girls fall by the wayside in their attempts to make it big and felt sorry for them, for while Marjorie's fall from grace sees her eventually get a happy ending right out of one of her beloved movie matinees, there was a rocky road to travel down to reach it. The producers recruited some soon to be famous faces for the beauty contest scenes, including Joan Collins recognisable in the lineup, but it was Diana Dors who was their real coup, fast becoming the most celebrated woman in the country and although she really only appeared in the first half (with a slight return at the end) her star quality was unmistakable. She played the fellow contestant who accidentally gives the gauche Marjorie a shot at the big time when a bathing costume mix-up and a dash of corruption gets the Midlands lass a contract.

At no point are we ever told that Marjorie is talented, you'll note, and there's a good reason for that - she isn't, she has lucked her way into this career and that's down to her looks. When they are not enough to sustain her, with crushing inevitability stripping for a living begins to loom, and a "French Revue" is her only chance of making an income. Although the producers were not so naïve to acknowledge they were not part of this dubious merry-go-round, they were apparently keen to present Lady Godiva Rides Again as a warning to all aspiring starlets, while well aware that this was the only way out of a life of drudgery for many of them: Johnny may be a nice guy, but he's no catch, and marriage to him seems a waste of Marjorie's brighter aspects. The film was notable for a series of cameos from famous names, including the inevitable Alastair Sim as the producers' nightmare scenario of how their careers could have gone, and Sid James as the seedy promoter, but mostly it intrigued for its clear-eyed depiction of showbiz. It just wasn't that funny, if you wanted humour. Music by William Alwyn.

[Network release this on Blu-ray as part of The British Film with an image gallery as an extra.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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