I saw 'South Sea Bubble' at Cinefest 2006, in Liverpool, New York. The American audience clearly disliked this stiff-upper-lip film, not so much because of its extreme Britishness as down to its extreme badness. There was a great deal of shifting and squirming in the audience round me while I was trying to concentrate on this film's story, and more than a few audible comments from the row in front of me. I would have had trouble following this movie anyway; it's quite dull, and appears to have been badly edited.
Ivor Novello is now almost totally forgotten, but in his day he was a major figure of the London theatre. He was, in fact, pretty much the nearest thing to Noel Coward before Noel Coward came along. Like Sir Noel, Novello was a languid handsome lounge lizard who starred in brittle drawing-room comedies (which he wrote) and musicals (for which he wrote the scripts, music, and lyrics as well as directing). Novello's autobiography 'I'm on a See-Saw' (also the title of one of his most popular songs) gives an interesting view of the London theatre in Novello's heyday.
Like Oscar Wilde, Ivor Novello's health and career were broken by a prison sentence ... although not for the same offence. During the Second World War, Novello was found to be guilty of petrol hoarding. Quite a few other Britons were guilty of this too, so the Home Office decided to make an example of Novello. He was given a stiff prison term. It broke his spirit and his health, and he died soon afterward. As his films tended to be far less successful than his stage performances, Novello is now sadly forgotten.
Anyroad, here we have the unfortunately-named 'South Sea Bubble'. Basically, a stock troupe of various character archetypes go off into the South Pacific in search of ... Rodgers & Hammerstein? Oh, if only! No, they go poncing off in search of buried treasure. At least two of the characters in this movie seemed to be genuinely insane, whereas the rest merely behave illogically. Benita Hume, as the heroine and love interest, is mannered and unattractive with it.
Ivor Novello, as the hero and romantic lead, is woefully miscast. Novello is meant to be playing an adventurer in the tradition of Allan Quartermaine or Indiana Jones: a rugged two-fisted hero. Oh, dear. I've already compared Novello to Noel Coward and Oscar Wilde, so that gives you some notion of how two-fisted he is. He's not even one-quarter of Quartermaine.
It doesn't help that these people are allegedly in the steaming tropics of New Guinea, but none of them show any sort of sunburn nor perspiration. (And their shadows are wrong, too.) However, that's all right, as 'South Sea Bubble' was clearly filmed on the Sussex Downs, and doesn't look very tropical with it. Not for one instant did these actors convince me that they were playing real human beings in a plausible situation. 'Old Mother Riley's Jungle Treasure' did a better job of it with this material. I'll rate this mess just 2 points out of 10. Maybe this movie is the real reason why Ivor Novello got that stiff prison sentence.
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