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Friday the Thirteenth (1933)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Friday the Thirteenth (1933)
35mm, black and white, 89 mins
DirectorVictor Saville
Production CompanyGainsborough Pictures
 Gaumont-British Picture Corporation
Producer (uncredited)Michael Balcon
Story bySidney Gilliat
 G.H. Moresby-White
PhotographyCharles Van Enger

Cast: Sonnie Hale (Alf, the conductor); Jessie Matthews (Millie Adams); Ralph Richardson (Horace, the schoolmaster); Eliot Makeham (Henry Jackson); Donald Calthrop (Hugh Nicholls); Max Miller (Joe)

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The complicated lives of twelve people travelling on a bus are traced up to the point when the bus crashes into a shop, killing two of the passengers.

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Although it is Jessie Matthews who receives top billing, Friday the Thirteenth (1933) is, in fact, an excellent ensemble piece, featuring the complex stories of a diverse range of characters expertly interwoven by director Victor Saville. The script, a collaboration between Sidney Gilliat, G.H. Moresby-White and Emlyn Williams (who also appears in the film, as the villainous Blake), is propelled by snappy dialogue and punctuated by efficient action sequences, creating a narrative that switches its focus seamlessly from one character's life to the next. Some of the stories are full of pathos, others full of humour; all are deftly tied up at the conclusion of the film.

Featuring an outstanding cast, the film is particularly notable as the first screen pairing of Matthews with real-life husband Sonnie Hale; both are charming in their roles. In addition, performances by Robertson Hare, as the henpecked husband, and Eliot Makeham, as the sweet-natured Jackson, are especially effective. Also memorable is Max Miller as the fast-talking, likeable villain Joe; the comedian kept Jessie Matthews amused off-camera, as he had done when they had appeared together in The Good Companions (d. Saville), released the same year. Ralph Richardson, starring opposite Matthews as her fiancé, found her "charming and delightful" to work with; he could see no signs of the impending nervous breakdown that Matthews was to suffer later that year.

Indeed, Matthews believed that the film would be lucky for her. It had been on Friday the 13th February 1925 that she had taken the first decisive steps in her career as a performer, stepping in as understudy when actress Gertrude Lawrence was taken ill. Although Friday the Thirteenth did not provide Matthews a real chance to shine, it did perhaps bring with it some good fortune. It led to a further collaboration with Victor Saville, the hugely successful Evergreen (1934), which finally secured Matthews' position as a bona fide British screen star.

Jenny Hammerton

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Video Clips
1. At the cinema (4:34)
2. Backstage (3:42)
3. The accident (3:14)
Calthrop, Donald (1888-1940)
Dalrymple, Ian (1903-1989)
Gilliat, Sidney (1908-1994)
Harker, Gordon (1885-1967)
Junge, Alfred (1886-1964)
Lawton, Frank (1904-1969)
MacPhail, Angus (1903-1962)
Matthews, Jessie (1907-1981)
Richardson, Ralph (1902-1983)
Saville, Victor (1896-1979)