Network on Air (studio)
230min total (length)
14 December 2020 (released)
17 December 2020
This veritable trip down memory lane is a film that will appeal to a selective and specialized audience. In truth there won’t be many people under 70 or 80 who will be in any way familiar with the stars of this film… that said it will make the perfect Christmas present for gran or gramps (or anyone who is into lighthearted variety entertainment).
Jimmy Knowles (Nat Jackley), Sally Bishop (Pat Kirkwood) and Ann Hart (Dorothy Squires) are three variety performers trying their best to keep their entertaining and diverse show on the road but are having trouble finding a half decent audience. They lose their venue as a result of this BUT! But Jimmy’s best mate David Laws (Bonar Colleano) just happens to own a theatre! Trouble is he's a washed up drunk and his theatre in an appalling state of disrepair… and they have no money. Their obliging agent Maxie Jago (Meier Tzelniker) thinks it would be a good idea if Nat goes into the new medium TV which he loathes to do as there isn't a part for Sally – his wife. When they discover David's theatre their 'eyes see stars' but he's already sold it to a couple of slippery shysters at a rock bottom price. Not to worry, our talented but unlikely husband and wife team Jimmy and Sally will sort it - they are not going to let an opportunity like this slip. Also the good-natured but wily Sally wants to get David off the skids and back singing in the show. Mr. Jago - a decent agent (they should be so lucky) is not prepared to take the risk of a gamble and our golden couple ask the rest of the team if they'll go for a profit share. Of course they will - no out of work actor will refuse an offer like that and it's all aboard for the skylark. Miraculously they manage to transform the theatre which is in a terrible state (it even has a massive hole in the roof) - quite where the repair money came from is another matter. Alas there are some considerable teething troubles when the aforementioned shysters send some heavies to ruin the opening night and succeed in sabotaging David's singing number – bringing the show to a premature end!
By a fluke chance the TV-company (Jimmy had agreed to the audition earlier and had gone down extraordinarily well) comes along as a result of a cancellation and televises their next show live. Now THAT is dream publicity!
As for the entertainment on offer... well we get to see what appealed to audiences shall we say shortly before the advent of real rock 'n' roll (even though it says ‘Rock n Roll with Laughter’ on the DVD-sleeve)!
For this reviewer the stand-out routines are Jimmy's hilarious double act (donning Dan Leno-type drag) with his pal Joey – played by the diminutive radio star of the 1950s and 60s Jimmy Clitheroe aka 'The Citheroe Kid'. We also see Jimmy literally strutting his stuff with a couple of stooges and it’s a lot of fun to watch. As for Pat Kirkwood and Dorothy Squires: although not disdaining the singing merits of both dames this can hardly be called rock ‘n’ roll… far from it.
This, however, is not all we are treated to for this release includes some very generous bonus material. A RAY OF SUNSHINE (1950) features comedian Ted Ray (who is disenchanted playing the back part of a panto donkey with a garlic munching front partner) getting increasingly drunk as he tells the exceptionally tall and supple-limbed Lucille Gaye various stories of other acts including none other than Wilson, Kettle and Betty and a variation of their famous ‘Egyptian Sand Dance’ but it is Gaye's endless legs one seems to remember. She would have made a great partner for Nat Jackley!
Another bonus for many (we might hope) and the highlight in THE NITWITS ON PARADE (1949) might be an entire routine performed by Sid Milward (a highly talented clarinetist in his own right) and the ‘Nitwits’ - now this was a talented and inspired crew whose a-political and perennial routines spawned a number of likeminded bands and would still go down well nowadays. Incidentally the Nitwits were still going strong in the late 60s.
As for THE KILTIES ARE COMING (1952) it is somewhat of a disappointment with numbers way to twee (never mind wee) and a saccharine-drenched and utterly misplaced ‘interlude’ depicting a group of young altar boys singing ‘Ave Maria’ in a church – who, what, why? Up yer kilt mate!
Depending on ones personal point of view STARS IN YOUR EYES(1956) looks either pretty dated even for 1956 or, as a mix of musical comedy with a dash of romance, is a worthwhile slice of nostalgia. The stars Nat Jackley (a tall, rubber-necked comedian capable of gyrating his body into the most unusual postures) is all but forgotten (some might even say deservedly so) though Jackley was not without talent and certainly an energetic performer. Pat Kirkwood, a revue queen, occasional actress and versatile singer of some merit, was near mega in the 40's and is perhaps best known these days as Prince Phillip's 'special friend'. The singer Dorothy Squires might be better remembered - possibly as a result of a failed marriage to the considerably younger Roger Moore.
Btw the screenplay is by Talboth Rothwell of ‘Carry on’… fame!
STARS IN YOUR EYES (part of the Adelphi Films classic collection) is presented as a bran-new HD restoration in its original theatrical aspect ratio. It can be ordered directly via www.networkonair.com