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  Lady is a Square, The Frankie Says Relax
Year: 1959
Director: Herbert Wilcox
Stars: Anna Neagle, Frankie Vaughan, Janette Scott, Anthony Newley, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Christopher Rhodes, Kenneth Cope, Josephine Fitzgerald, Harold Kasket, John Le Mesurier, Ted Lune, Mary Peach
Genre: Comedy, Romance, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Frances Baring (Anna Neagle) looks after her late husband's classical concerts now, with particular interest in The National Youth Orchestra, and while tastes are changing and the productions are not bringing in the revenue they once did, she has secured a tour with Russian celebrity conductor Spolenski (Harold Kasket) that she anticipates will clean up at the British box office. Meanwhile, one of those newfangled pop singers Johnny Burns (Frankie Vaughan) is trying to establish his own career by penning his own material with agent Freddy (Anthony Newley), when Frances' daughter Joanna (Janette Scott) walks into the offices of the music company he works for seeking the services of a piano tuner for an upcoming party...

Dame Anna Neagle had been one of Britain's most popular film stars, with huge hits like Spring in Park Lane the very tonic the post-war nation wanted to enjoy. Come the end of the nineteen-fifties, however, as in this film tastes were changing as rock 'n' roll took hold and a new generation were not interested in anything so genteel as one of her previous hits, therefore sensing the mood shift she and her producer-director-mentor-husband Herbert Wilcox decided if you can't beat them, join them and concocted this somewhat embarrassing appeal to get down wiv da kidz. They recruited the services of Vaughan, a rising star at the time, seemingly unaware that it was cabaret he was most comfortable with rather than anything to do with the burgeoning rock movement.

The results were not enough to keep Neagle and Wilcox afloat, and mirroring the plot of this, just as Frances' funds run out, so did theirs a short while later, partly the motive for not making any more movies, though by that time Neagle had drifted towards the stage instead. This leaves The Lady is a Square, with its rather desperate title more true than they could have dreamt of, as a curio seeing three stars on the way up - Vaughan, Scott and Newley - and one star resolutely on the way down, despite Anna's endeavours to be cool by association. However, she and Wilcox could not resist including the classical music they were more interested in, and that jarred with Johnny's pop pastiches and the jazzy numbers Vaughan was more comfortable with: he performs Love is the Sweetest Thing so often you begin to wonder if it was now the only tune Johnny knew.

Though he was no actor, Frankie did have charisma and importantly, an inherent likeability (being aware he turned down a Hollywood career because he loved his family and did not want to neglect them is one example of what a decent man he was) and that shone through in his performance as Johnny improbably gets a job as Frances's butler and secretly makes moves to save her foundation with the profits from his newfound pop success in return for her kindness. Also, he is in love with Joanna, and Scott as ever made an attractive romantic lead, even if that's all producers ever saw her as and it would have been nice to see her try something different. If your idea of getting hep to the hepcats was watching Wilfrid Hyde-White enquiring what exactly is a square, then you were the target audience, it was all painfully tone deaf but also endearing, like engaging with an elderly relative on current trends in pop culture. There wasn't a mean bone in its body, and for that, probably amuses more than prompts cringes all these years later. It's quaint. Music by light entertainment specialist Angela Morley (then Wally Stott).

[Network release this as part of The British Film with a trailer, gallery and subtitles as extra features.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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