The Boy Friend (1971) [Re-UP]

Posted By: Someonelse
The Boy Friend (1971) [Re-UP]

The Boy Friend (1971)
DVD9 | VIDEO_TS | PAL 4:3 | 02:10:14 | 6,85 Gb
Audio: English AC3 2.0 @ 192 Kbps | Subs: French
Genre: Comedy, Musical, Romance

Director: Ken Russell
Stars: Twiggy, Christopher Gable, Max Adrian

The assistant stage manager of a small-time theatrical company (Polly Browne) is forced to understudy for the leading lady (Rita) at a matinée performance at which an illustrious Hollywood director (Cecil B. DeThrill) is in the audience scouting for actors to be in his latest "all-talking, all-dancing, all-singing" extravaganza. Polly also happens to fall in love with the leading man (Tony) and imagines several fabulous fantasy sequences in which the director is free to exercise his capacity for over-the-top visuals in this charming 1920's era flick.

This production of the musical The Boy Friend is not exactly going to play to a packed house, but the show must go on, even though the assistant stage manager Polly Browne (Twiggy) makes the error of whistling in the dressing room - they're very superstitious these show people. And no sooner has Polly tried to fix the problem by going out, turning around three times and knocking on the door than the news reaches the cast and crew that the star (Glenda Jackson) has broken her leg on her way there. Now what are they going to do?

The Boy Friend (1971) [Re-UP]

How about that old musical cliché made famous by 42nd Street, put on the inexperienced kid who may go out there a nobody, but will come back a star? Or something like that. This was an adaptation of Sandy Wilson's pastiche stage show of the nineteen-fifties, given the Ken Russell treatment and winding up not one of the cult director's favourite films. According to him the main problems were twofold: he wanted to keep everything in, creating a lighthearted romp that dragged on for well over two hours, and the studio wanted to drastically cut it, which they did without his permission or indeed input.

The Boy Friend (1971) [Re-UP]

So while it may have seemed at the time that this might not have appealed to anybody, over the years this, like most of Russell's films, worked up a devoted following of those who not only appreciated what he was trying to do, but genuinely enjoyed the deliberately ramshackle stylings. It's a tricky thing to make a success of, fashioning an entertainment that is supposed to be very accomplished about something that is unavoidably shoddy, and while you could not say they did that perfectly here, enough of it had the charm they were aiming for that you could understand why it might attract the select few.

The Boy Friend (1971) [Re-UP]

The conceit here was the version of the show being put on at this Plymouth theatre was not as professional as those involved might have liked, so all the missed cues, flubbed lines, bumping into each other and even outright arguments were as much part of the texture of the film as the more elaborate numbers Russell staged as dream sequences. These were often the thoughts of one of the audience in the box at the side of the stage who the cast recognise as De Thrill (Vladek Sheybal), a film director who they all hope will whisk them away to Hollywood should they impress him sufficiently with their talents.

The Boy Friend (1971) [Re-UP]

Naturally, although we can see he is laughing at the performers, the notion of showbusiness being not only a method of escapism for the audience but the performers and artists as well ran through every scene. The numbers exhibited a sprightly zest even when they were meant to be amateurish, after all we were supposed to be finding amusement here and if it had been all too shabby then the joke would have been lost of most of those watching. The intrigue backstage, where Polly is having trouble persuading the leading man, Tony (Christopher Gable), of her feelings for him, was also filtered through the cheap but vital sentiment of the show, leaving either fiction or real life scarcely more fantastical than the other. In the director's cut there was undoubtedly too much of a good thing, yet Russell's obvious love for the material and hard work bringing his vision to it made this one of his more accessible movies.
The Boy Friend (1971) [Re-UP]

Ken Russell's delirious, hilarious, visually dazzling version of Sandy Wilson's stage play is his one film that most critics approve of. It's at once a homage to and send up of old Hollywood musicals (especially those by Busby Berkeley): an ingenue is thrown into the spotlight when the star performer calls in sick; a romance blossoms between the two leading players; a movie mogul happens to be talent-spotting during that very performance (this idea was based on Russell's own experience of viewing the stage production). It also has the backstage intrigues of all other 30s-40s musicals, only the major difference is that Russell allows them to spill onstage as well. He piles levels upon levels - it is as a backstage-plot-within-the-play-within-the film that we, the movie audience (and not the audience in the movie) are supposed to view Russell's film. In Russell's version, the plot of the play serves no other purpose than to parallel his own storyline unwinding behind the scenes - he is not interested in a straightforward film adaptation of the play (it would be impossibly vapid) but a specifically cinematic reworking of the show's many musical numbers.

The Boy Friend (1971) [Re-UP]

The amount of musical set-pieces in this film (especially if you've seen the full-length version) totals more than any other I can think of in a film of this type. Russell, who has always liked choreographing his imagination to music, at last has the chance to indulge himself for all he's worth (not that anything's really stopped him before). Scene by scene, we are treated to one flamboyant setup after another - they are obviously well beyond the capabilities of the run-down theater staging the play, but fit in seamlessly with the film's several fantasy sequences, which is the main point of this, and indeed all of the musicals it acknowledges, i.e. to provide escape into a colourful world of happy endings.

The Boy Friend (1971) [Re-UP]

THE BOY FRIEND is probably best known as the debut for 60s model Twiggy, who had never acted or sung before but was assured by Russell that she would be perfect for the role. She pulls off her part effortlessly and is ably supported by an excellent, high-spirited cast (who were obviously tuned in to Russell's wavelength). Having seen both versions of this film (one cut is 25 minutes shorter) I would question the inclusion of the Bacchanalia fantasy and a couple of the less stagy songs. Wilson's stage follow-up was the relatively unknown DIVORCE ME, DARLING. Watch out for cinema screenings in revival houses - this one really has to be seen in widescreen Panavision. Cast includes Russell regulars Christopher Gable and Max Adrian.
IMDB Reviewer
The Boy Friend (1971) [Re-UP]

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