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Evergreen Movie Review

matthews jessie british saville

Once upon a time, going to talking pictures in America meant that we only saw American movies; 1933's The Private Life of Henry VIII changed all that. Not only did this very British film win its star, Charles Laughton, the Academy Award for best actor, but it also proved that audiences were receptive to pictures made outside of Hollywood. Unfortunately, musical comedies don't always travel well across the Atlantic, so, with one exception, British musicals didn't make a real splash in America until the Beatles made A Hard Day's Night in 1964. The one exception was the work of Jessie Matthews, and her greatest triumph was 1934's Evergreen. Evergreen costars Jessie Matthews’ husband at the time, Sonnie Hale (1902–59) in a comic role, and they made several films together as a team throughout the decade. Barry MacKay, best remembered as Scrooge's nephew in MGM's A Christmas Carol, also plays opposite Matthews. Betty Balfour (1903–79), a big star in British silent comedies, plays the second lead, and the caddish blackmailer is played by an American-born character actor named Hartley Power (1894–1966). Everyone in the production is young, between 27 and 40, and they all breathe life into what is basically a pretty implausible tale. That may be why Evergreen, along with its many English cultural references, never made it to Broadway. Jessie Matthews always looks so cheerful onscreen that it's hard to believe that she was a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown all through Evergreen. Only the careful handling of director Victor Saville (1897–1979) kept the production rolling along at a rapid clip. (Saville had a long career in both countries, eventually producing 1955's Kiss Me Deadly.) Matthews’ personal problems and wrenching memories about the making of Evergreen did lead to a breakdown when it was shown at a retrospective in her honor many years later. None of her private unhappiness shows up on film, however. Matthews’ graceful dancing and bright personality plus a lovely Rodgers and Hart score made Evergreen a smash hit. In her later years, Jessie Matthews wrote her autobiography, Over My Shoulder, and played a supporting role in Edward and Mrs. Simpson as Wallis’ aunt. She was still working the year of her death at age 74 in 1981.

1934 91m/B GB Jessie Matthews, Sonnie Hale, Betty Balfour, Barry Mackay, Ivor McLaren, Hartley Power, Patrick Ludlow, Marjorie Gaffney; D: Victor Saville; W: Emlyn Williams; C: Glen MacWilliams; M: Richard Rodgers, Harry Woods, Lorenz Hart, Harry Woods. VHS, LV

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