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1930s: The Invocation of Theatre in Film

Main image of 1930s: The Invocation of Theatre in Film

As well as providing subjects for cinema, the theatrical life itself has been portrayed in films almost from the start, from Masks and Faces (d. Fred Paul, 1917) and Trelawney of the Wells (d. Cecil M. Hepworth, 1916), through The Good Companions (d. Victor Saville, 1933) and the musical comedies of the 1930s, to the pastiche of The Boy Friend (d. Ken Russell, 1971), the homage of The Dresser (d. Peter Yates, 1983) and the nostalgia of An Awfully Big Adventure (d. Mike Newell, 1995).

Theatres themselves have been often been used as film locations. Men are not Gods (d. Walter Reisch, 1936) featured the Alhambra, which used to stand in London's Leicester Square, and The Deadly Affair (d. Sidney Lumet, 1966) featured the Aldwych Theatre, London, then home to the Royal Shakespeare Company.

In films like The Good Companions (d. Victor Saville, 1933) and Lord Camber's Ladies (d. Benn W. Levy, 1932), the musical numbers are part of the action - which stops, while the star performs. Backstage and front of stage are recreated for the camera. In onscreen close-up, the ritual of applying stage make-up can suggest a character's vulnerability - or duplicity. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, in The Red Shoes (1948), The Tales of Hoffmann (1951) and Oh...Rosalinda!! (1955), used the magic of cinematic illusion to create effects which would never be possible on a real stage.

For Alfred Hitchcock, the theatre can be a sinister place, full of sexual ambiguity, where evil and madness lurks in the shadows and no-one is what he seems (Murder!, 1930). In The Good Companions, Victor Saville celebrates the team spirit, pluck and optimism of theatre folk. Gertrude Lawrence is the complete professional in Lord Camber's Ladies: from quarrelling with her lover in the wings, she goes straight into her opening number onstage, without missing a beat.

Janet Moat

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Good Companions, The (1933)Good Companions, The (1933)

Adaptation of J.B. Priestley's popular play about a performing troupe

Thumbnail image of Lord Camber's Ladies (1933)Lord Camber's Ladies (1933)

Hitchcock-produced adaptation of a 1915 play about a poisoning scandal

Thumbnail image of Men Are Not Gods (1936)Men Are Not Gods (1936)

Romantic comedy melodrama inspired by Shakespeare's Othello

Thumbnail image of Murder! (1930)Murder! (1930)

Hitchcock whodunit with a theatrical setting

Thumbnail image of Oh... Rosalinda!! (1955)Oh... Rosalinda!! (1955)

Powell & Pressburger musical comedy based on 'Die Fledermaus'

Thumbnail image of Red Shoes, The (1948)Red Shoes, The (1948)

Powell and Pressburger's beautiful and delirious ballet film

Thumbnail image of Tales of Hoffmann, The (1951)Tales of Hoffmann, The (1951)

Visually ravishing Powell & Pressburger film of the Offenbach opera

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