London Town (1946 film)
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|Directed by||Wesley Ruggles|
|Written by||Val Guest|
|Produced by||Wesley Ruggles|
|Edited by||Sidney Stone|
|Music by||Jimmy Van Heusen (lyrics by Johnny Burke)|
|Distributed by||Eagle-Lion Distributors Limited|
|30 September 1946 (UK release)|
The screenplay by Sig Herzig, Val Guest, and Elliot Paul, based on a story by director Wesley Ruggles, revolves around comedian Jerry Sanford (Sid Field), who arrives in London believing he has been hired as the star of a major stage production, when in fact he is merely an understudy. Thanks to his daughter Peggy (Petula Clark, already a screen veteran at age fourteen), who sabotages the revue's star Charlie de Haven (Sonnie Hale), he finally gets his big break. The premise allows for a variety of musical numbers and comedy sketches performed by, among others, Kay Kendall in her film debut and Tessie O'Shea.
- Sid Field as Jerry Sanford
- Greta Gynt as Mrs. Eve Barry
- Petula Clark as Peggy Sanford
- Kay Kendall as Patsy
- Sonnie Hale as Charlie de Haven
- Claude Hulbert as Belgrave, Charlie's dresser
- Mary Clare as Mrs. Gates
- Tessie O'Shea as herself
- Jerry Desmonde as George
- Beryl Davis as Paula
- Scotty McHarg as Bill
- W. G. Fay as Mike
- Reginald Purdell as Stage Manager
- Alfie Dean as Heckler
- Charles Paton as Novelty Shopkeeper
- Pamela Carroll as Street Singer
- Marion Saunders Obligato in 'Street Singer'
- Lucas Hovinga as Dancer
- Jack Parnell as Drummer
- Sheila Bligh as London Town Dozen & One Girl
- Dorothy Cuff as London Town Dozen & One Girl
- Pat Hughes as London Town Dozen & One Girl
- Sheila Huntington as London Town Dozen & One Girl
- Pauline Johnson as London Town Dozen & One Girl
- Pamela Kay as London Town Dozen & One Girl
- Freda Lansley as London Town Dozen & One Girl
- Mary Midwinter as London Town Dozen & One Girl
- Giselle Morlais as London Town Dozen & One Girl
- Louise Newton as London Town Dozen & One Girl
- Enid Smeeden as London Town Dozen & One Girl
- Pauline Tyler as London Town Dozen & One Girl
- Jackie Watson as London Town Dozen & One Girl
- Stella Hamilton as Dancer (uncredited)
- James Kenney as Extra (uncredited)
- Wally Patch as Constable (uncredited)
- Susan Shaw as Extra (uncredited)
- Ann Sullivan as Singer, Street Scene (uncredited)
The critical and financial failure of the extravagant film, Britain's first major Technicolor musical, is part of British film legend. Financed by the Rank Organisation at a time of rationing and shortages of materials in the period immediately after World War II, it was filmed in the shell of "Sound City Shepperton", which had been made available as a film studio after being requisitioned during the war as a factory for aircraft parts. (The studio was later renamed Shepperton Studios and is still used for film production.)
Musical hall performer Field had cheered up wartime London audiences with his hugely successful stage variety shows, including Strike a New Note (1943), Strike it Again (1944), and Piccadilly Hayride (1946), so he seemed a natural for the lead. As he was of the opinion that no British director was capable of making a good musical, he insisted on having an American at the helm, and the task fell to Wesley Ruggles, who produced as well.
Given that Ruggles had no experience with the genre – his best-known films at that point were the Academy Award-winning Western epic Cimarron (1931) and the Mae West comedy I'm No Angel (1933), both more than a decade old – and his Hollywood career was on a downslide, he was an odd choice indeed.
J. Arthur Rank spent large sums of money for American songwriters (Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke), musicians (Ted Heath and his orchestra), and costumes by the legendary designer Orry-Kelly, while at the same time re-equipping the studio from the ground up. He was confident that box-office business was booming at the time and that demand for a flashy musical entertainment would be such that he would make a healthy profit, so his financial controls were slack.
Kay Kendall was promoted as England's answer to Lana Turner. "Nobody had ever heard of me but they called me a star", she later recalled. "I opened bazaars, signed autographs, went to premieres, did everything a star was supposed to do. My photograph was on magazine covers and front pages of newspapers. And all before we'd ever finished the picture."
So much was spent on production that the film needed to perform better than possible just to break even. However, dismissed by critics (who described it as "tacky" and "tasteless") and ignored by audiences, it was a legendary flop. In hindsight, however, especially for nostalgia fans, many of its kitschy aspects make it fascinating, and film historians consider it an interesting record of the times in which it takes place. Following Britain's victory in the war, it can be seen as a tribute to London and its residents, and as a celebration of popular Cockney culture, especially its music hall traditions.
It should also be pointed out that according to trade papers, the film was a "notable box office attraction" at British cinemas in 1946. According to Kinematograph Weekly the 'biggest winner' at the box office in 1946 Britain was The Wicked Lady, with "runners up" being The Bells of St Marys, Piccadilly Incident, The Road to Utopia, Tomorrow is Forever, Brief Encounter, Wonder Man, Anchors Away, Kitty, The Captive Heart, The Corn is Green, Spanish Main, Leave Her to Heaven, Gilda, Caravan, Mildred Pierce, Blue Dahlia, Years Between, O.S.S., Spellbound, Courage of Lassie, My Reputation, London Town, Caesar and Cleopatra, Meet the Navy, Men of Two Worlds, Theirs is the Glory, The Overlanders, and Bedelia.
Kay Kendall said after the film's release there were "no more bazaars to open, no more premieres, no more autographs." However her career later recovered and she became a major star of British films, before dying of leukaemia in 1959 at the age of just 32.
London Town is notably the starting point for the career of Susan Shaw.
Songs in London Town include "You Can't Keep a Good Dreamer Down", "The 'Ampstead Way" (most definitely inspired by "The Lambeth Walk" from the earlier stage production Me and My Girl), "Any Way the Wind Blows", a medley of Cockney songs ("Knock 'em in the Old Kent Road"/"Any Old Iron"/"Follow the Van"), "Don't Dilly Dally on the Way" (sung by Charles Collins), and "My Heart Goes Crazy", which was the title under which an abridged U.S. version of the film was released by United Artists in 1953.
In September 2011, the full-length version of the film was made commercially available for the first time, when it was released on a PAL DVD by Odeon Entertainment in the U.K. (Running time is listed as 122 mins. on Amazon UK, so that would be shortened. Or, that might simply be running fast at PAL speed, 25 frames per second instead of transferred correctly at film speed of 24 fps.)
- "Kinematograph Year Book 1949". Kinematograph Publications, Ltd. 1 November 2017 – via Internet Archive.
- "London Town (1946) – Wesley Ruggles – Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related". AllMovie.
- "London Town (1946)". IMDb.
- "London Town aka My Heart Goes Crazy". www.petulaclark.net.
- "Wesley Ruggles – Biography, Movie Highlights and Photos". AllMovie.
- MORGAN HUDGINS (31 July 1955). "GENEVIEVE'S' KAY KENDALL CLICKS". New York Times. p. X5.
- Murphy, Robert (2 September 2003). Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939-48. Routledge. ISBN 9781134901500 – via Google Books.
- Lant, Antonia (1991). Blackout : reinventing women for wartime British cinema. Princeton University Press. p. 232.
- "Kay Kendall – Biography, Movie Highlights and Photos". AllMovie.
- "London Town (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) by Sid Field on Apple Music". itunes.apple.com.
- "My Heart Goes Crazy". TV Guide.
-  Archived 4 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine.