Noel Coward hated MGM's opulent 1940 Techicolor remake of his 1929 operetta; and it's customary to decry it as a glossy travesty and claim this earlier version preferable to it. However, I haven't seen the 1940 version since 1973 but still recall it vividly (and with affection); while I saw this version in 1984 and couldn't remember a thing about it until I saw it again today - when I could see why.
Herbert Wilcox lacked the budget to make anything as resplendent as MGM's version; and thus by default turns in a superficially less kitschy production. It is handsomely photographed by Freddie Young and designed by L.P.Williams, with interesting costumes by Doris Zinkeisen. But only the tiniest slivers of Coward's wit survive Wilcox's leaden direction: and as I watched Anna Neagle constantly hold her hands up in front of her in a 'silent movie' posture that would have looked exaggerated twenty years earlier I kept wishing that Wilcox would do his job and tell her to keep them by her side where they belonged. The chemistry between her and lover Fernand Gravey is non-existent; and even Esme Percy is at a loss to do anything with his under-written part as her stuffy husband-to-be.
The film eventually comes to life with the appearance of Ivy St. Helier repeating the stage role Coward especially wrote for her as saucy Manon la Crevette (Kay Hammond is also very funny in a fleeting role as the worldliest looking of the tavern wenches), and really takes off when Miles Mander swaggers on to the set as the odious Captain Auguste Lutte (George Sanders played his equivalent in the remake); who proceeds charmlessly to pursue the understandably unenthusiastic Miss Neagle, and simply won't take no for an answer. You hate Mander so much you want to give that nasty little moustache of his a good, painful yank!
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