I’m intending to do a series of postings about John Mills’ British films on this blog – starting off with a look at a little-known musical. During his long and varied career, Mills was of course best-known for his amazing range of dramatic work. But early on he specialised in song-and-dance roles, both in stage shows – including Noël Coward’s Words and Music – and in musical film comedies such as Car of Dreams. This remake of a Hungarian film from the previous year is included in the John Mills Centenary Collection Volume 2 box set, a varied selection which showcases this actor’s versatility. The DVD print is of good quality. The film is also available in public domain versions at Youtube and Archive.org, but I don’t know what the quality is like.
Mills was actually second-billed behind German actress Grete Mosheim, seen here in her only English-language film role, after fleeing Hitler. Mosheim, who had Jewish ancestry, was an acclaimed star of Berlin theatre and had worked with Max Reinhardt. She speaks English OK here, although her accent becomes heavier when she sings. it seems a shame she didn’t make more films in Britain -. but she did go in front of the cameras again in Germany many years later.
Anyway, Mosheim is charming in the role of the eccentric Vera, bringing just the right element of mischief to the character. Despite being penniless, Vera likes to amuse herself by going into shops and demanding to be shown luxury goods, such as fur coats – then pretending they don’t suit her and deciding against buying. This game leads to surprising complications, though, however, when she wanders into a Rolls Royce showroom and looks at a new car.
The rich young man who is really about to buy the vehicle, Robert Miller (Mills) catches sight of Vera and is instantly smitten. He comes up with the idea of sending the car to her as a present, claiming she has won it in a competition – and offering to work as her chauffeur, in the hope she will fall in love with him rather than his money. Complicating matters further, Robert just happens to be the son of the boss of the musical instrument factory where Vera has just started work. And, of course, all those instruments lying around are the perfect excuse for a few songs in between the outings in the car, which are very obviously done with rear projection.
Mills makes the character of Robert seem sweet, kind and uncomplicated, as he delights in making Vera happy and is always ready to burst into song or do a quick tap dance. This character could easily seem a bit creepy, but there isn’t even a hint of that.
As well as appealing to fans of Mills, the film has an attraction to vintage car buffs because of the starring role for the gleaming new Rolls Royce Phantom. Another point of interest is that one of the film’s two directors was Graham Cutts, who had earlier worked with Alfred Hitchcock as his assistant on The White Shadow, a film long thought to be lost until it was recently discovered. However, there is nothing remotely Hitchcockian about this very light, sweet film. It is rather similar to other musicals such as For the Love of Mike and Facing the Music, which I recently reviewed here, offering a blend of frothy escapism and romance.
Vera’s parents are played by another exiled German actor, Paul Graetz, who also appears in Facing the Music, and British actress Margaret Withers. They are an amusingly chalk-and-cheese pair, with small shopkeeper Mr Hart seeming down to earth, while his wife is always trying to give herself airs and graces. The supporting cast also includes Robertson Hare and Norah Howard.
Like the other British musicals I’ve written about on this blog so far, this is a fairly slight offering, with instantly forgettable musical numbers – but it is quite enjoyable and endearing, and it is fun to see John Mills as a song and-dance man.