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The Dancing Years (1976)
This must have been one of the last large-scale television productions of a musical ever to be made.
Unashamedly romantic, Ivor Novello's stage work from 1939 tells of a young composer who falls for a jealous opera star, and their tempestuous relationship spanning several decades.
A large set takes over the studio, allowing plenty of room for the swirling dancers, handsome officers and Austrian peasants so familiar in these older shows.
The performances are excellent - Marilyn Hill Smith sings superbly while Celia Gregory mimes the songs (and Ann Howard sings for Joyce Grant), and Gregory is excellent at portraying the vacillating, obsessive prima donna. Anthony Valentine in the Novello part (composer Rudi Kleber) makes the dated dialogue seem just plausible, and as Grete, the young girl who asks Rudi to give her first refusal when she is old enough to marry him, a request which has disastrous repercussions, Susan Skipper sings and dances charmingly.
All in all, anyone who enjoys the old style of musical comedy, when the cast really had to be able to sing (i.e. with trained, light operatic voices), and a separate chorus of dancers was customary, will be delighted with this production. For once, it's true that they don't make them like this anymore.
Valuable document of Gilbert & Sullivan performing style
This video is taken from a live concert in 1983. The original D'Oyly Carte Opera Company had folded the year before. For over 100 years they performed the operas of Gilbert & Sullivan, touring the UK, America and Australia often for 48 weeks of the year.
For some reason the video is brutally cut, and some singers don't have their solos included. The orchestra is a county schools' orchestra and isn't of the highest standard.
For G&S fans this video is essential. Vivian Tierney, who went on to have a career in grand opera is excellent in her numbers. It is also interesting to see Peter Pratt, who left the company in 1959 - although he recorded some of the operas, I had never seem him on stage before watching this video. The other singers are John Ayldon, Geoffrey Shovelton and Patricia Leonard, who all have a large fan base among G&S enthusiasts. The chorus is massive, consisting of anyone who wanted to go along to the Royal Albert Hall, London and join in; many went in costume.
The numbers are interspersed with a couple of actors who are supposed to be Gilbert and Sullivan themselves. Some people find them annoying, but I don't find it too bad.
Maybe one day the whole concert will be released on video.
A must-have for G&S fans, representing the unique performing style of the original D'Oyly Carte Opera Company.
Carrie's War (1974)
Memorable and often haunting
I remember seeing this on television; from the date I must have been about 8. I read the book after seeing it on TV.
I recall the 'nasty ogre' character who made the children walk on the 'drugget' (a new word I learnt) - a sort of sheet down the middle of the stairs - to save wear on the stair carpet. I think I was a bit shocked that people weren't always nice to the evacuees who they were billeted with.
I can't recall the entire story now, but I remember something about Carrie dropping a blackened skull down a well. Carrie was the 'stronger' character and was protective towards her brother. There was also a simple character (who would now be described as having 'learning difficulties') called Mr Johnny.
Cast a Dark Shadow (1955)
Margaret Lockwood - as never seen before
Adapted from a stage play ('Murder Mistaken'), this film shows the wonderful Margaret Lockwood playing a realistic character, rather than as a highwaywoman or gipsy in a melodrama.
She is excellent as Freda, the vulgar second wife of the scheming Dirk Bogarde, who is clever enough not to be murdered by him like her predecessor.
According to Bogarde, Lockwood's name on the posters was bad publicity for the film, as her fans wanted to remember as the villanous women she played in earlier films. This seems a shame, as Lockwood was one of the better actresses of the postwar British cinema who deserved to be given meatier parts, like their American counterparts.
The Woman in Question (1950)
Five versions of one person
'The Woman in Question' shows the same person, the fairground fortune-teller Astra (real name: Agnes) as five different people saw her. Astra has been found strangled and the police chief tries to put together what has happened to her.
Jean Kent is excellent - for me, she was at her best in sleazy, tarty roles and the episode seen from her sister's (Susan Shaw) point of view is no exception. I love the moment when we first see this version of Astra, sprawled in bed in a messy room, drunk. The music is wonderful here.
Charles Victor plays Mr Pollard, the pet shop owner, with a fine degree of understatement. Hermione Baddeley is equally good as the nosy neighbour Mrs Finch.
Jean Kent (in 'Sixty Voices' by Brian McFarlane) felt the episode closest to the character in her view was the happy-go-lucky girl as seen by the Irish sailor played by John McCallum. Her least favourite was the Susan Shaw episode. Apparently Bette Davis had originally been in mind for the part.
A very cleverly made film and a classic British film.