Friday, July 27, 2018

The Boy Friend (1971)

One of the musicals in TCM's Mad About Musicals spotlight the other month that I was interested in seeing was The Boy Friend. Thankfully it's on DVD, so after having watched it I can do a full-length review on it.

Polly Browne, played by Twiggy (yess, the model), is the assistant stage manager at a 1920s theater in one of those English summer resorts run by Mr. Max (Max Adrian). They're putting on a musical called The Boy Friend, which is an actual musical from the 1950s that was set in the 1920s. But as with Laurence Olivier's character in The Entertainer, being stuck in musical theater in England anywhere than London can't be very good for your career prospects. Worse for Max is that his leading lady Rita (an uncredited Glenda Jackson) sprains her ankle and can't go on. The assistant stage manager is the understudy of last resort for all the characters, so she's going to go on in today's matinee. Still worse is that this matinee is going to be attended by Mr. De Thrill (Vladek Sheybal), an obvious take-off on Cecil B. De Mille.

Now, while the musical is going on, there's all the backstage stuff going on. The basic plot of the musical is that Polly (the character in the musical has the same given name as the stage manager) is at a boarding school in the south of France, and makes up a boyfriend (not named George Glass) who she says is going to take her to the big masked ball. A delivery man from the department store shows up with student Polly's costume, and the two immediately fall in love, although they can't go to the ball together because of the whole social class difference thing. The delivery boy is played by Tony (Christopher Gable). Polly the stage manager is in love with him, but one of the actresses, Fay (Georgina Hale) seems to be too, and she and all the other actresses besides Rita have no respect for her. The only person who does is dancer Tommy (Tommy Tune), who has a mysterious past.

While all the backstage stuff is going on: Fay is trying to upstage Polly at every turn; an estranged wife is looking for her husband, and De Thrill is in the audience because talkies have just comed to Hollywood, and he's looking for new stars for his all-singing, all-dancing movie. So all of the cast members in the musical have dreams of making the big time, and the lousy musical numbers of the stage musical morph into Busby Berkeley-like numbers in the players' minds.

The Boy Friend is a movie that I found hard to judge. Parts of it are pretty good. I liked the back story (not a part of the 1950s musical on which this movie is based) about the goings-on behind the scenes. I don't know that Twiggy is a particularly good actress, but she was a hell of a lot better than Marianne Faithfull in Girl on a Motorcycle, and since part of the conceit of her character is that she's thrust into acting that she's unsuited for, whether Twiggy herself is a good actress doesn't necessarily matter. She's adequate in the musical numbers, and that's enough. As for those fantasy musical numbers, that's where the film really dragged to me. There are a lot of them, and they all seem to go on too long.

The Boy Friend isn't going to be everybody's cup of tea. But it's certainly an interesting cup of tea.

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