|Network have released the 1956 film Stars in Your Eyes on Blu-ray as part of a drive by the owners of the Adelphi catalogue to promote their vintage wares - their product is appearing in a variety of places, and this backstage musical also has the bonus of three of their shorter projects on the disc as special features. Stars in Your Eyes was intended as a showcase for comedian Nat Jackley, a rubber-limbed funnyman with a line in doubletalk, who here was accompanied by some stars of his day, including singer Pat Kirkwood as his wife and another singer, Dorothy Squires, as the potential saviour of their stage show which is taking place in a theatre in need of refurbishment. That old chestnut. As a record of the acts, it has quite some value.
And the same could be said of the special features, starting with the Ted Ray vehicle A Ray of Sunshine (1950) which took the fast-talking, quippy comedian and put him mostly in a double act with theatre star Lucille Gaye. She tended to be paired with a shorter, male counterpart, and Ted was no exception, the difference in height enough to have them rolling in the aisles, apparently, but if she did not make much of a career in the movies (nor even television), Gaye is hypnotic in her extraordinary movements, high kicking, tumbling, gyrating and all the rest of it, stealing the relatively brief film from her co-star. One supposes there was not much of a place for a performer of her talents on the big screen, she does come across as too big a personality for those roles.
But Ted and Lucille are not alone in this, for this was also an excuse to capture a bunch of speciality acts on celluloid, musical, comedic, and musically comedic. Not many would be recognisable now (despite his popularity, Ray is pretty obscure these days too), but those with longer memories may be able to identify Janet Brown, the impressionist who latterly essayed a mean Margaret Thatcher (she's in the James Bond instalment For Your Eyes Only), but here goes through the likes of Jessie Matthews, Gracie Fields and naturally, Katharine Hepburn. Also there were Wilson, Keppel and Betty doing the sand dance (and more!), a rather limited humorous dance act who for some reason lingered long in the popular memory, and various curious comedians and an all-girl dance band.
Next after that near-hour-long item is one from the year before, this lasting a mere twenty-four minutes, named The Nitwits on Parade which starred the comedy jazz band The Nitwits as they were in 1949. In later years they would evolve into the similar Nuts and Bolts, with some of the same members, but here we witness them in their earlier incarnation along with some friends such as a dance pairing and a musical impressionist. But it was The Nitwits who led the field, accomplished musicians, certainly, and portraying a zany sense of humour that made them popular across the world, though some of their stylings might not travel too well to this century: Cyril Lagey, the ever-face-pulling black band member, would be frowned upon now for his antics, but what energy.
That little item was presented by an up-and-coming Max Bygraves, variety star extraordinaire, but the final extra on the disc has someone less well known to host, Peter Sinclair, billed as The Cock o' the North for reasons that will become apparent. This was The Kilties are Coming, and if that sounded like a threat, you don't know the half of it. The famed orchestra (not bus) conductor Thomas Beecham is attributed with the celebrated quote "Try everything once except incest and country dancing" (there are variations), but the participants here in traditional Scottish dress have declined to listen to at least the second part of that as they offer up a Highland fling or two and have the songs to back them up as we are immersed in entertainment of North of the Border.
Mr Sinclair is presenting as if this were a television programme, which would have been a novelty for many Brits in 1951 when this was released, complete with a staffed studio and on location interviews with the parents of selected performers of The Royal Kiltie Juniors. There were also interjections from Yorkshire comedienne Molly Booth who has quite the repertoire, but mostly it was a cross between The White Heather Club and Stars on Sunday, with Peter fixating on the teenage stars' love lives (or lack of them) in interviews. There was also a dose of religiosity in case all this was too much for the moral sensibilities, but it was goodnatured enough even if most would find it unpalatable for mainstream entertainment of all these years later. However, like all these films, their cultural value was valid as an intriguing window into a bygone world and Adelphi are to be thanked for getting these curios back into circulation.
[The other extras on the Network Blu-ray in its The British Film brand are a couple of trailers and an image gallery (the latter more intriguing than you might think).
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