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Evergreen (1934)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Evergreen (1934)
DirectorVictor Saville
Production CompanyGaumont-British Picture Corporation
ProducerMichael Balcon
ScenarioMarjorie Gaffney
Adaptation/DialogueEmlyn Williams
From the play byBenn W.Levy
CameraGlen MacWilliams
Lyrics and Music byRichard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Harry Woods

Cast: Jessie Matthews (Harriet Green), Sonnie Hale (Leslie Benn), Betty Balfour (Maudie), Barry MacKay (Tommy Thompson), Ivor McLaren (Marquis of Staines)

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The story of a 1909 music-hall actress who was blackmailed into retirement, and the 1934 success of the daughter who exploited her fame.

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Jessie Matthews' autobiography begins with a description of how she was driven to a suicide attempt by the prospect of attending a retrospective screening of Evergreen (d. Victor Saville, 1934) in the 1960s. For her, this was not a film that brought with it happy memories. Although not fully recovered from a nervous breakdown when filming began, she felt that as this could be her breakthrough film, she must do her best.

Evergreen was Matthews' third film with Victor Saville, and after earlier unpleasant experiences with Albert de Courville, she was relieved to find Saville sympathetic to her fragile nerves. Although neither Saville nor Matthews were particularly fond of the storyline (Matthews called it "corny"), Evergreen turned out to be a smash hit. Audiences enjoyed its central intrigue of a young girl masquerading as her own mother.

This British musical certainly holds its own against Hollywood rivals of the same era, although the chorus lines tend to be slightly wobbly. Saville gets the best from Matthews despite her illness, and the romantic scenes between Matthews and Barry Mackay have genuine charm. Hit songs such as 'A Little Springtime in Your Heart' and 'Dancing on the Ceiling' leave audiences humming and dance sequences choreographed by Buddy Bradley are a delight - especially Jessie's solo performance in the Alfred Junge house set of white walls and chrome. Supporting players Sonnie Hale and Betty Balfour bring some gentle humour, especially when Balfour reveals her cockney showgirl roots despite being Lady Shropshire by marriage.

Evergreen stands the test of time and is one of the best musicals made in Britain during the 1930s. An escapist fantasy of a young ingénue becoming a star is hardly a novel plot but the film remains one of Matthews' best and enduringly popular screen appearances, mostly due to Saville's sensitive but firm direction.

Jenny Hammerton

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Video Clips
1. The stunt (2:36)
2. Sands of Time (2:45)
3. Supper tea (3:26)
4. Dancing on the ceiling (3:23)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Balfour, Betty (1903-1978)
Dalrymple, Ian (1903-1989)
Junge, Alfred (1886-1964)
Matthews, Jessie (1907-1981)
Saville, Victor (1896-1979)
Washbourne, Mona (1904-1988)
Gaumont-British Picture Corporation
Musical Comedy in the 1930s