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Maytime in Mayfair (1949)


Main image of Maytime in Mayfair (1949)
35mm, Technicolor, 95 mins
Director Herbert Wilcox
Production Company Imperadio Pictures Ltd.
Producer Herbert Wilcox
Screenplay Nicholas Phipps
Photography Max Greene
Music Directors Robert & Richard Farnon

Cast: Anna Neagle (Eileen Grahame); Michael Wilding (Michael Gore-Brown); Peter Graves (D'Arcy Davenport); Nicholas Phipps (Sir Henry Hazelrigg); Thora Hird (Janet); Tom Walls (police inspector)

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An impoverished, insouciant gentleman finds himself heir to a Mayfair ladies' dress salon, and becomes romantically involved with the manageress after seeing off both personal and business competition from the owner of a rival establishment.

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The society romantic comedy Spring in Park Lane (1948) was so successful that a sequel was soon called for, and this time the setting was the world of Mayfair's haute couture ladies' fashions.

In February 1947, Christian Dior launched his sensational Paris fashion collection. Maytime in Mayfair was released in June 1949, just after the ending of UK clothes rationing , which finally enabled London fashion houses to sell new designs to affluent customers. These 'New Look' fashions were also seen in a colour Pathé short and newsreels of the time and in features such as It Started in Paradise (d. Compton Bennett, 1952).

Like its predecessor, this film opens with scenes of elegant Park Lane, but this time in glorious Technicolor. A tone of civilised urbanity is established as Michael Wilding strides along a Mayfair street. Wilding is just one of the stars who reappear in similar roles (graceful and charming, but a disaster in the salon), again romancing Anna Neagle (with an unflattering Technicolor make-up), with reliable support from Peter Graves (his love-rival, again spurned) and Nicholas Phipps playing his clubland military bore, and a 'courtesy appearance by an old friend Tom Walls'. It also has the same cinematographer and musical director.

Maytime in Mayfair again has 'witty' inter-titles ("Mayfair: dumbfounded in 1948 by Sir Stafford Cripps !!!"), a self-referential script (Phipps: "She reminds me of Anna Neagle") and several songs, mostly performed in the background of nightclub scenes by uncredited vocalists. It offers two fantasy dance sequences: one features the 'dressing' of Neagle with multi-coloured fabric rolls (ideal for Technicolor), with dress cutter, three male suitors bearing caskets, and a photographer. The other is a three-minute dream dance, similar to that in Spring in Park Lane, in which Neagle and Wilding dance in the style of Astaire and Rogers (yards and yards of dress fabric!) with lifts, slow motion and lush orchestrations. In addition, a fashion parade sequence showcases the response of British designers to Dior's 'New Look' with Neagle and some quite mature models stepping out of magazine pages - just as they did in Cover Girl (US, 1944) - to the music of Robert Farnon's 'A Star is Born'.

In an era of postwar austerity, it's not difficult to see why such films were popular, particularly with female audiences, to whom the characters and the world of fashion salons and swanky nightclubs would have epitomised 'glamour'.

Roger Philip Mellor

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Video Clips
1. Les Ambassadeurs (5:33)
2. Henry's discomfort (0:58)
3. En Vogue (2:39)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Spring in Park Lane (1948)
Hird, Thora (1911-2003)
Kalmus, Natalie (1887-1965)
Neagle, Anna (1904-1986)
Washbourne, Mona (1904-1988)
Wilcox, Herbert (1890-1977)