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  Stars in Your Eyes Bring Back Variety
Year: 1956
Director: Maurice Elvey
Stars: Nat Jackley, Pat Kirkwood, Bonar Colleano, Dorothy Squires, Jack Jackson, Vera Day, Hubert Gregg, Joan Sims, Ernest Clark, Gerald Harper, Meier Tzelniker, Gabrielle Brune, Aubrey Dexter, Roger Avon, Sammy Curtis, Jimmy Clitheroe, Freddie Frinton
Genre: Musical, Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jimmy Knowles (Nat Jackley) is a comedian in the variety theatres, who along with his wife Sally Bishop (Pat Kirkwood) who sings and dances on the same bill, have been plugging away at making a success of their acts only to face dwindling audiences. Even on a Saturday night, Sally jokes there are seven people in their audience, and things are starting to look bleak for the old-time music hall, leading them both to seek work from a famous agent who turns out to be inundated with performers seeking exactly the same thing. Can they possibly make it through this rough patch and succeed in their chosen profession when all around are falling away? Or will they have to suffer the greatest indignity - a job in television?

There was genuine pain at the heart of what to all intents and purposes was a frothy backstage musical comedy, for it was certainly accurate to say music hall was going the way of the dodo come the late nineteen-fifties, when Stars in Your Eyes was released. Really the only aspect of it to thrive in the following decades would be pantomime, which used many of the tricks of the trade in variety to keep its family audiences entertained, so if you wanted some idea of what it had been like, a seasonal show such as that would be your best bet. Alternatively, you could give a film like this a try, which short of tracking down an old episode of TV's The Good Old Days was ideal for conveying the sort of material that would typically be shown on the stage.

Not that this little item really showed the artform at its best, not as far as the comedy went at any rate, for Jackley may have had the experience in variety to back up his performance here, but the material they gave him (courtesy of regular Carry On scribe Talbot Rothwell) was lacking. Every so often we were "treated" to Jackley's character doing his act, and it was consistently dreadful, full of mugging and fancy footwork but crucially lacking much that could be identified as a decent joke, despite a fair range of what the comedian was capable of on display, from singing to female impersonation (in panto style). Far better were the acts where we were offered the music, as the singers who put across the tunes had the pipes to put across even the second division melodies we heard here: Kirkwood was supported by Dorothy Squires (Roger Moore's ex-wife in her only film role) and they were very pleasant to listen to.

The plot had Jimmy's old pal David Laws who happens to own a rundown theatre of his own, and he was played by Bonar Colleano, the American import much-beloved in Britain until his early death, a couple of years after this film, shocked the nation. He was on less wisecracking form than usual, having a drink problem to essay, though he did get to sing too and was very creditable; David's shot at redemption depends on the show Jimmy and Sally arrange going well. Unfortunately, a couple of crooked lawyers want to buy the property and are willing to sabotage the performances to get it, leading to the only truly funny scenes where a bunch of heavies show up in the stalls to boo the acts, though the humour there was unintentional. Nevertheless, for all your reservations the historical value here is strong, capturing as it does once-famous names like Hubert Gregg (who penned some of the songs), Vera Day, Joan Sims and Jimmy Clitheroe at their prime. It does contain old time charm, though at some of those times you're not surprised variety died out.

[Network release this fully-restored rarity as part of The British Film, with short films (also from the archives of Adelphi, as this is), trailers and an image gallery as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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