This 'lost' film was seen today by about fifty people at the National Film Theatre in London for what was probably the first time in over seventy years, in a brand new print made only a few days before -- the negatives having been salvaged from amongst much decayed material in the Rank Organisation's nitrate vaults some years ago. It was introduced with many caveats by an archivist who hadn't actually had the opportunity to see the picture beforehand, and who was clearly nervous that he might be about to palm off on us a complete flop; but in fact "Lord Babs" turned out to be a thoroughgoing success which richly deserves to enter the archive screenings circuit rather than return to obscurity after this single showing.
Based on a 1928 stage production with added music by none other than Vivian Ellis, the film is that rare beast, a farce comedy that doesn't rely on its characters' stupidity for laughs -- even if the hero's friend does comment dryly (and aptly) at one juncture that his pretending to be an imbecile would be useless, since no-one would notice the difference! Every worm turns, and even the audience is at one point fooled. The script -- worked on by an uncredited Sidney Gilliat -- is swift-moving and often extremely funny (my own favourite scene was perhaps the one where Ambrose Parker and his wife are telephoning simultaneously to make wedding arrangements, with the two conversations intercut to a side-splittingly surreal result), while the cast make the most of their lines. "Lord Babs" starts off as amiable and enjoyable physical comedy, culminating in what would, in most other scenarios, be the final curtain-down revelation of the lost heir's true identity; and from this set-up onwards things just get more and more complicated, finishing by perfectly logical steps in a situation where our hero is being pushed by his nanny-fiancée through the park in a pram, waving a rattle and dressed as an infant...
Bobby Howes, in addition to being an athletic tumbler and engaging light comedian, proves a ridiculously apt mimic in his 'baby' role, while the two rival ladies to whom he becomes engaged, Jean Colin and Pat Paterson, are not only very attractive but charming performers. Meanwhile Alfred Drayton nearly steals the show as the outrageous snob and self-made man of business, Ambrose Parker (of Parker's Pork Pies).
The songs are pleasant without being particularly memorable, with some deftly witty lyrics (the medical assurance that "your eyes are something chronic" takes on an entirely new meaning when reprised over a mountain of potatoes to peel, for instance!) The quality of the vocal soundtrack recording can leave something to be desired, and none of the performers has a particularly outstanding voice: but the girls sing sweetly, and Howes, practised star of many West End musicals, certainly knows how to put across a number. Use of background music is apt and ingenious, particularly at the start of the film, and clever use of the camera belies the script's stage origins, including a wordless sequence where two characters' journey to their marital home is seen entirely through shots of their caressing feet.
Inspiration lagged perhaps a little at the end, where the script vanishes in favour of five minutes' rushabout rough-housing rather reminiscent of early Charlie Chaplin; but all concludes of course happily, with the fade-out coming on a final laugh and the audience left very happily disposed. The film runs with a constant current of background amusement interspersed with frequent laugh-out-loud moments, both visual and verbal -- this is just the sort of humour I like, based around wordplay and reaction rather than pratfalls, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, as, I hope, did the original audiences.
And the 1930s toys brought out to amuse the 'baby' are the most enchanting collection...
2 of 3 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
| Report this