Jeannie MacLean (Vera-Ellen) may be an American, but she is proud of her Scottish roots, a way of thinking that was drummed into her by her late grandfather, who she still feels she has to respect, no matter that her best friend Sadie (Helen Horton) points out he was far too strict and miserly, never mind cheeseparing with his kind words. But Jeannie believes he was family and therefore must be listened to, so when the local minister arrives at her country cottage to deliver a message from the deceased, she is intrigued, then delighted as she discovers her inheritance hidden beneath a board. Finally she can afford a holiday and she knows exactly where to head for: sunny Scotland!
Well, let's say the filmmakers were lucky with the weather, for while you can see some glowering clouds over Edinburgh and the surrounding countryside, the sun did indeed look to be shining on musical star Vera-Ellen in what would be her final screen appearance. After this, she retired to start a family, but as would be the case with too much in her life that didn't go very well, and she ended up dying rather prematurely in comparative obscurity aside from the cultists who appreciated her terpsichorean talents during her short screen career. She appeared alongside the likes of Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby (her role in White Christmas ensures she is on the world's televisions every December), but she is otherwise recalled for sadder reasons.
Vera-Ellen was a sufferer of anorexia nervosa before it had really been recognised as a medical condition, and now when you watch her films it's difficult not to observe her slight frame and wonder what she had put herself through to get the tiniest waist in Hollywood, not such a proud boast when it was a state of mental unbalance that had gotten her there. It left her prematurely drawn and strained-looking, and though she was also famed for her smile, you could tell she was self-conscious about the way she looked her by the way she tended to use high collars to hide her neck, which displayed the effects of the anorexia. For that reason you can feel melancholy witnessing her cheery, innocent demeanour in the movies.
In addition, Let's Be Happy, which the leading lady really wasn't, wasn't exactly a triumph to bow out with, being a British musical. As you may know, such films in that genre from Blighty were intent on recreating the musicals out of Hollywood, even the successful efforts owed much to the stylings from across the Pond, and more often than not they fell short of their ambitions. Vera-Ellen, while still able to bust some moves, wasn’t stretched by her role here, and her leading man Tony Martin (Mr Cyd Charisse) was offered mediocre songs to boom out in his baritone, not the best way to experience either of them as the plot resolved itself into a love triangle between Jeannie, washing machine developer Martin and a Scottish laird (Robert Flemyng) who may have his castle but has fallen on hard times.
It's no surprise that throughout we can perceive a definite affinity between the two American characters, never mind that Martin had secondary love interest in a Frenchwoman who latches onto him (Zena Marshall, the first Bond Girl to be seduced by 007), leaving the ending no big shock, but for Scottish viewers there was some entertainment value nonetheless. First, there was the Cinemascope footage of the capital, complete with bagpipers in full regalia marching down Princes Street, which had some historical engagement, and the Loch Lomond scenes made the countryside look especially inviting. Also, for viewers of a certain age the appearance of Scottish celebrities like Molly Weir and Gordon Jackson would be amusing, though oddly whenever Martin walked into the reception of the Caledonian Hotel, someone would cough very loudly, a curious choice of background hubbub for director Henry Levin (one of a number of Americans involved in making this). If this was patently for the tourists, and may still appeal in that direction, then it remained a quaint, aspirational work from when Brigadoon was still the highest profile Scottish musical (and that was made in Hollywood!).
[Network's DVD has a bright print and a gallery and trailer as extras.]