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  London Town You'll Find Them All... Doing The, Er, 'Ampstead Way
Year: 1946
Director: Wesley Ruggles
Stars: Sid Field, Greta Gynt, Petula Clark, Kay Kendall, Sonnie Hale, Claude Hulbert, Mary Clare, Tessie O'Shea, Jerry Desmonde, Beryl Davis, Scotty McHarg, W.G. Fay, Reginald Purdell, Alf Dean, Charles Paton, Pamela Carroll, Marion Saunders, Lucas Hovinga
Genre: Musical, ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jerry Sanford (Sid Field) is a comedian from the provinces who has been invited down to the London stage by showbiz impresario Mrs Eve Barry (Greta Gynt), so he travels there by train with his young daughter Peggy (Petula Clark) to stay at a boarding house. The girl is full of hopes and dreams for her beloved father, and that night after he has sung her to sleep he drops off himself and dreams of dancing across the rooftops of the capital in front of a huge orchestra. But the next morning he oversleeps, and is late - the start of his troubles.

And the start of our troubles as what looked to be setting out as a sentimental but charming enough backstage tale of theatre folk had taken a nosedive into a well of bad taste before the final curtain. There are many reasons why London Town is interesting, one of them being it was a massive disaster for Britain's leading movie producers The Rank Organisation, in spite of all the money thrown at it, being a pet project of both Field and its specially imported producer-writer-director, the American Wesley Ruggles, who was ordered to manufacture a British musical in the style of Hollywood hits: what could possibly go wrong, thought the Rank executives?

That Ruggles never directed another movie again should offer you some idea of the reception London Town received, and poor old Sid Field, who was hoping to launch a career in front of the cameras off the back of this, ended up dead four years later having seen his big chance well and truly blown. Mind you, seeing him now in the record of his music hall acts you may well marvel that he had a career on the stage at all, as perhaps he was caught on an off day or three, but his routines were desperately unfunny - not even the audience in the film laughs at them lending them an eerie quality as if they were observing him in stony silence rather than enjoying themselves as (we assume) they are meant to be.

The plot wasn't too bad, but there wasn't very much of it, concerning Jerry's attempts to show off his act in front of the big city crowd, only to have his efforts hampered when Mrs Barry insists he is relegated to understudy to the real star, Charlie de Haven (Sonnie Hale), something of a pill-popping showbiz monster reluctant to give up his position to this middle-aged upstart. After three months of Jerry watching from the wings doing nothing (three months!) the solution is one Peggy invents without consulting her father: slip Charlie soap which turns his face green so he cannot go on one night, allowing Jerry that break he always wanted (or we have to think so anyway, as I say the audience is silent as the grave).

Add in Peggy's subsequent guilt and that was about it for the plot, so how did those much-trumpeted musical numbers stand up? They didn't was the answer to that, with the springtime dance nothing short of embarrassing as the hoofers are forced to shimmy their shoulders every few seconds, then to indicate joy they do moves best associated with a very happy Snoopy. If that was not vulgar enough, "Two Ton" Tessie O'Shea appeared to roar a few songs and jig around as well: all those who have seen her frilled on a swing or indulging in the sport of gut barging with Field will not easily forget it. It all ends with a tribute to London, or rather a tourist's idea of London as Kay Kendall leads the chorus in a rendition of Any Old Iron while wiping her nose on her pearly dress. Really, the dreadful misjudgements of what constituted a spectacle to rival Hollywood were something to behold, and with the musical parts funnier, alas, than the comedy, this could best be recommended to fans of notorious turkeys.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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