This review is my contribution to the Madeleine Carroll Blogathon being organised by Silver Screenings and Tales of the Easily Distracted – please do visit and read the other postings!
By sheer serendipity, I heard news of the Madeleine Carroll blogathon just after hearing that one of her early British talkies, Fascination, was about to be released on DVD in the UK. How could I resist? Just over an hour long, this melodrama laced with comedy sees Carroll cast as a world-weary actress (she was only 25, but the character seems to be several years older) who tempts a young interior decorator into cheating on his wife. The director was Miles Mander, a British dramatist and actor who had already directed and starred opposite Carroll in silent film The First Born, based on his own play.
Sadly, the film is in pretty bad shape despite BFI restorers’ expertise (it only survives in a damaged nitrate print), and subtitles are provided to help viewers make out the dialogue. Adapted from a stage play, the film does feel stagy at times and some of the dialogue and acting are stilted. Nevertheless, I feel it is worth seeing if you enjoy early talkies, and it is a fascinating example of Carroll’s British film work. The film also gets steadily better as it goes on – the beginning is rather shaky, but later on it ratchets up the tension, as the love triangle takes its toll on everyone concerned.
Joseph Schmidt and Charlotte Ander in ‘My Song Goes Round the World’
Following on from my look at the first two films in a new DVD set, released by Network Distributing, here are some thoughts on the other two. Where the earlier films are very British in their humour and their whole atmosphere, the two slightly later offerings on the second disc have a more international feeling. One is set in Venice, the other partially in Vienna. Another similarity between the two is that they both feature great operatic tenors in the lead roles – Joseph Schmidt in My Song Goes Round the World (1934) and Richard Tauber in Heart’s Desire (1934). All the films in this series are part of The British Film Collection.
I really enjoyed both, and for me the first of these is the stand-out film of the entire set. Having said that, Tauber’s voice in the second film is probably the musical high point. In both films, the greatest thrill comes in scenes where the star singer gives an impromptu performance, and those around them suddenly realise that they have great voices which belie their appearance (Schmidt’s height, Tauber’s peasant dress).
Hundreds of early British talkies are gradually being released on DVD in the UK by Network Distributing. The latest volume is British Musicals of the 1930s: Volume 3, due for release on January 12, which contains four rarities, For the Love of Mike (1932), Facing the Music (1933), My Song Goes Round the World (1933) and Heart’s Desire (1934) I’ll just write about the first two films here, and will post about the others separately. They are all part of The British Film collection.
Musicals from this period tended to offer entertaining escapism from the worries of the Great Depression. That’s certainly true of the two films on the first disc, which are both light-hearted romps serving up a blend of slapstick antics and glitzy outfits. For the Love of Mike is set in a grand country house, while Facing the Music largely takes place at a London opera house, and includes several operatic scenes along the way. Both films are amusing, but Facing the Music is by far the more polished of the two, with a highly entertaining performance by music hall star Stanley Lupino, who comes up with endless visual gags and one-liners. Watching this straight after The Love of Mike really gives a feeling of how much British cinema had advanced in just one year. Here’s a trailer to give a taste of the whole set.