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  Show Goes On, The Gracie Gives It Her All
Year: 1937
Director: Basil Dean
Stars: Gracie Fields, Owen Nares, John Stuart, Horace Hodges, Edward Rigby, Amy Veness, Arthur Sinclair, Cyril Ritchard, Jack Hobbs, Dennis Arundell, Billy Merson, Frederick Leister, Patrick Barr, Nina Vanna, Tom Payne, Aubrey Dexter, Queenie Leonard
Genre: Musical, Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Sally Scowcroft (Gracie Fields) is a simple Northern English mill girl, but she has big dreams to make it on the stage as a singer. To that end, she has joined the chorus of a local pantomime, Dick Whittington, and has been enjoying being part of a show even if she is not the lead, though she does get half a chance when at the final bow, the lead actress has gotten paralytically drunk in the wings, so Sally grabs her costume and goes on to take her bows down the front. There are some excuses from the leader of the company, but the audience are amused and that is all that matter. But this cheek won't be enough to get her to the top, she needs some good old-fashioned luck as well, so with her mother's blessing she heads for the Big Smoke...

Our Gracie was well-established herself, of course, the year this came out she was the highest paid actress in the world such was her huge popularity, and not only with the British public, her Northern, plain speaking charm working wonders with her audience, not to mention her crystal-shattering singing voice. It could not last, sadly, and once the war came she lost all those fans who had supported her for the best part of a decade thanks to her decision to abandon Britain and move to Hollywood to try her luck there. She had limited success, but it was clear she had made a grave error, and the betrayal those followers nursed was something that never really left her reception from then on, despite moving back to Blighty once the war was over. Yet there was an indication her fans had a very narrow expectation of what they wanted from her.

Fields had ambitions of her own, and like the clown who wanted to play Hamlet, she felt like branching out from her musical comedies into musical drama, which was where The Show Goes On entered the frame. It was intended as a semi-autobiographical piece, with a few laughs but more tears and a selection of tunes that were less humorous, but just as sentimental, as those that had made her name. However, the reaction to this was as if George Formby had turned around and decided he wanted to pursue a career in Italian opera: it was far from what was expected, or even wanted, by those Gracie aficionados who had so loyally followed her career throughout the tough years of the Great Depression. But maybe it was an indication of what was to come: Gracie stepping into the shoes of Jessie Matthews did not go down so well.

Yet the film itself was really not so bad; it might have been a fictionalisation of Fields' life, but you could perceive it was striking a chord in her as she performed it, giving a proper acting reading rather than a broad, caricatured one. She certainly had that powerful voice, which in the plot here was used for ballads by her new mentor, a sickly older gentleman (Owen Nares) who pens a collection of self-serious songs the public (in the film) are less than enthralled by, however when Sally starts adding jokes to her repertoire her career takes off like a rocket, creating tension with the man she is so grateful for, but never truly understood where her strengths lay. Not bad for a bit of drama, and the songs she was given demonstrated Gracie was adept at those too, but maybe there simply were not enough jokes for the nineteen-thirties audience to get behind. All these years later, we can see a star vehicle that was hard done by, unnecessarily so, and if it was not classic material, its moves towards class and emotional resonance were far from disastrous. Director Basil Dean, the man who established Ealing, had the nous to entertain those who gave it a try.

[Network's Blu-ray from The British Film brand has an image gallery and subtitles as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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