Yesterday: Harriet Green (Jessie Matthews) is the biggest music hall star of Edwardian times, but tonight her reign is about to come to an end as she performs what is publicised as her final show. Her adoring public have turned out to see her in droves, and she gets a warm ovation as she sings her last song for them, then thanks them for all their support over the years. She is to marry The Marquis of Staines (Ivor McLaren), who is in attendance though publicity shy, so they head off to a party to celebrate their engagement, but there is an unforseen shock when Harriet hears unwanted news...
Jessie Matthews enjoys a cult status among fans of musicals these days, but at the height of her fame she was one of the most popular stars Great Britain ever produced, even, with this film, enjoying a hit across the world and including America. The success of Evergreen led to Fred Astaire asking her to be his partner in films, but there was a problem as Matthews suffered terribly with nerves and not feeling confident enough, she turned him down. If she had taken him up on his offer, who knows how famous she would have become?
Still, there are compensations when her musicals of the thirties are available to watch, and this was probably her best, showing off her dancing skills in a film version of a huge stage hit which had featured songs written by Rodgers and Hart to its credit. If anything, we could have seen more of Matthews dancing, as the plot tends to intrude rather too much, with Harriet calling off the wedding to the Marquis after her old boyfriend re-appears and threatens to blackmail her about the daughter she had with him. So off Harriet goes to South Africa with nary an explanation, and a title card reads "Today" as we get up to date.
From then on, the focus of the storyline is on Harriet's daughter, also called Harriet and conveniently also played by Matthews. She is a struggling chorus girl who happens to meet an equally struggling publicist, Tommy Thompson (Barry MacKay), who has an idea: put on a show with her as the main attraction, only pretend that this Harriet is actually her mother making a comeback. Never mind that if she had appeared as her mother's offspring then that would have generated all the renown she wanted, this has to stick to an unlikely tale of false identity which grows increasingly complicated as Tommy has to pose as her son and the Marquis turns up again.
The musical numbers are surprisingly effective for a British production of the era, especially when you see what the likes of George Formby were doing at the time, and that is thanks to the work of choreographer Buddy Bradley, who came over to the United Kingdom to provide dances for the original stage show and did the same for the film. He is also shown for about five seconds during a montage, his sole screen appearance, which was a pity as he was an interesting chap, as a black choreographer and teacher who taught many of the top hoofers of the day, but never received the recognition he deserved because of his race; at least British show people acknowledged his talent. Some of the numbers here can be pretty far out, including a futuristic, apparently Metropolis-inspired set up with women being turned into robots, along with more traditional sequences designed to display Matthews' Terpsichorean talent. With such delights as the star reducing a courtroom to tears with her singing, there's a lot to like about Evergreen, and make you wistful that Matthews never quite made a lasting impression.