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Spring in Park Lane (1948)


Main image of Spring in Park Lane (1948)
35mm, black and white, 90 mins
DirectorHerbert Wilcox
Production CompanyImperadio Pictures
ProducerHerbert Wilcox
Screenplay byNicholas Phipps
Original storyAlice Duer Miller
PhotographyMax Greene
Musical DirectorBob Farnon

Cast: Anna Neagle (Judy Howard), Michael Wilding (Richard), Tom Walls (Uncle Joshua), Peter Graves (Basil Maitland), Marjorie Fielding (Mildred Howard), Nicholas Phipps (Marquis of Borechester)

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Following a suspected financial scandal involving the sale of the family art collection, a nobleman hides from his relatives by working as footman in a Mayfair house, and falls in love with the niece of the owner, a wealthy diamond merchant and art collector.

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Upstairs, Downstairs (LWT, 1971-75) catered to the British fascination with social class and its rituals, with an upstairs social hierarchy replicated 'below stairs'. Spring in Park Lane appeals to similar nostalgia for the pre-war social order when (for the middle classes) domestic servants were widespread. In this world, hierarchy and rituals are important - Judy is suspicious of Richard because he breaks the rules. In an ordered society, one is expected to 'know one's place'.

The film is also concerned with decorum governing sexual relations, connecting to a literary tradition that extends back to Ovid and the Middle Ages. The influence of this is evident in the psychology of the mistress/servant relationship, in which Judy is exalted and all-powerful, with Richard prostrate before her (literally so when he is at Judy's feet). He is also humiliated when Basil arrives to take her to his latest film premiere, forced to observe them at a social distance. Judy is always assured, confident and in control. At the conclusion, convention would dictate that Richard ask Uncle Joshua if he might marry Judy, but it is Judy who tells her uncle that she and Richard are to marry.

But such modes of behaviour, speech and conduct are for those 'above stairs'. Compare this with the directness of maid Rosie, who reads the notorious Forever Amber and whose healthy interest in the opposite sex is indicated by a nudge/wink and a dancehall encounter.

Among the Wilcox/Neagle regulars are two figures who were no strangers to high society and its rituals - actor Peter Graves (a real-life Lord and West End musical star) and well-connected actor/screenwriter Nicholas Phipps (Phipps also wrote the witty, self-referential screenplay). The Wilcox 'family' also includes Tom Walls, cinematographer Max Greene, and Robert Farnon, whose luscious arrangements include English traditional melodies ('Early One Morning') and 'The Moment I Saw You' (from a 1945 stage revue).

This was the third in the Neagle/Wilding 'Mayfair cycle'. All performed well financially, but this was 1948's top moneymaker. In the BFI's 2004 survey to find the UK's 'Ultimate Film' based on the number of actual cinema tickets sold, it was the top-rated wholly British film of all time. It gave austerity audiences what they craved - 90 minutes of escapism and glamour. It was so successful that the same territory was mined again, in Maytime in Mayfair (in Technicolor, 1949), with many of the same sets and cast.

Roger Philip Mellor

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Video Clips
1. At my lady's feet (2:43)
2. The fan (2:57)
3. Dream dancing (3:59)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Maytime in Mayfair (1949)
Clarke, Frank (1915-2002)
Neagle, Anna (1904-1986)
Wilcox, Herbert (1890-1977)