Herbert Wilcox (director)
Network on Air (studio)
22 March 2021 (released)
26 March 2021
This British musical-comedy from 1959 was the very last film made by husband & wife team Anna Neagle (who stars as the ‘Square’ in question) and director Wilcox, while pop crooner Frankie Vaughan and Janette Scott liven things up.
Here, despite top billing, Neagle's part isn't really the key one - that goes to the then popular song and dance man Frankie Vaughan (aka ‘Mr Moonlight’). We kick off with a classical concert at the RFH performed by the National Youth Orchestra where we see 'wealthy' sponsor and patron of classical music Mrs. Baring (Neagle) seated in a box lapping up the concert with her friend Charles (Wilfred Hyde-White, as urbane as ever). Painfully aware that she is bordering on bankruptcy Mrs. Baring has arranged a tour for Russian musical genius Spolenski (Harold Kasket) - a petulant has-been, to tour England in the hope his concerts will rake in the much-needed spondulix.
At the other end of the scale we have Johnny Burns (F. Vaughan), a popular singer of ‘modern’ music on the verge of stardom. Johnny pays a visit to his agent Freddie (an amusing caricature from Anthony Newley - dig those specs) whose office is in a musical showroom and sings a few notes from his latest song. It sounds like it could be a hit. He claps eyes on pretty Joanna Baring (Janette Scott), Mrs. Baring’s daughter, who has come to see about getting her mother's piano tuned as a party is meant to be held in Spolenski’s honour. Johnny pretends that he can tune the instrument in order to get to see Joanna again. Obviously a romance is on the cards. Arriving at the Baring household Mrs. Baring first mistakes him for a butler she’s hired and is somewhat irritated when Johnny plays one of his modern pieces on the piano – with Joanna only too happy to ‘groove’ to the tune and explaining the misunderstanding. Her mother soon changes her mind about the musical ‘rebel’ when the hired butler cancels his service at last minute’s notice and Johnny is drafted in and fitted with a smart butler uniform after offering his services. During the party Johnny (look out for the champagne joke) he proves himself a worthy replacement; so much so that Mrs. Baring asks him to stay on a little longer. Meanwhile his friendship with Joanna starts to blossom just as his career starts to go into orbit and Johnny is looking at huge earnings after bigwig Greenslade (Christopher Rhodes) signs him up – of course, Mrs. Baring mustn’t find out that her daughter’s prospective paramour has such success with playing schmaltzy pop songs...
During some accidental eavesdropping Johnny overhears a conversation between mother and daughter during which Mrs. Baring reveals that her financial situation is going from bad to worse because Spolenski’s concerts simply don’t sell enough tickets. To add insult to injury Spolenski – who has a fondness for smoked salmon and expensive restaurants – threatens to cancel his tour unless Mrs. Baring coughs up a whopping £3,000!
Once again Johnny plays guardian angel and secretly sends Mrs. Baring the amount (which he received as an advance from Greenslade) on a banker’s draft – meaning Mrs. Baring is unaware of her mysteriousbenefactor though thinks it might be Charles. After further musical success Johnny finds himself under contract to perform at the ‘Talk of the Town’ venue (now better known as the Hippodrome) and Joanna trots along to support him. When her mother finds out she fires Johnny (who at that point in his life has in all probability more important things to do then playing butler) and forbids Joanna to see him again. Frustrated and angry he shoots back by calling Mrs. Baring a ‘square’. Unfortunately her daughter’s efforts to smooth things over go nowhere when it transpires that Johnny’s next hit ‘The Lady is a Square’ is aimed at Mrs. Baring and seems to be mocking her conservative musical attitude. However! After learning who her benefactor really is she and Joanna decide to attend Johnny’s concert despite the fact that Spolenski also has a concert scheduled for that very same evening but luckily falls ill due to having eaten salmon that must have been off.
At first, Mrs. Baring isn’t exactly impressed when Johnny performs his new mega hit – a version of Al Bowlly’s classic ‘Love is the Sweetest Thing’ - to the screams of adoring teenagers. She even goes so far to call his music primitive (tame would be a better description!) but low and behold what a surprise when a second curtain goes up and Johnny performs Handel’s ‘Ombra mai fu’ together with the National Youth Orchestra. Who’s the real square now? Teenagers still screaming and dancing – are you kidding? Of course, such soppy efforts demand a happy end… which comes when Mrs. Baring realises that classical and modern music can indeed co-exist. How can she possibly not agree that they broke the mould when they made Johnny Burns and to his and Joanna’s surprise she takes to the dance floor to swing with Greenslade manager Freddy to some popular music, thus proving the lady is not a ‘square’!
Between 1933 and 1959, London husband & wife team Anna Neagle and Herbert Wilcox made over thirty films together, with Neagle the star and Wilcox the producer/director. Wilcox only had to think of a project worthy of his wife's thespian skills and hey presto, a production was in progress!
The screenplay, here primarily credited to Nicholas Phipps (himself an actor usually cast in lightweight upper class roles) clearly meant to appeal to a young audience and though it may seem a little odd now, Frankie Vaughan was a pretty big attraction when this film was made. A younger person watching it nowadays is liable to think that they are all ‘square' to see groups of teenage girls screaming in ecstasy as Frankie in dinner suit, boater and cane struts his stuff (he did do it well though). Almost laughable as it was pretty old hat (no pun intended) even then. Remember Elvis had already crashed onto the scene and just around the corner the Beatles and the Stones were waiting in the wings. The film would appear to be well intentioned but then as now it is rather rare to find committed pop fans who also appreciate classical music though Frankie Vaughan was never really a 'pop' star anyway. Hardly a grand swansong for Dame Anna Neagle but at least she was still dancing.
THE LADY IS A SQUARE is featured here as a HD re-master from original film elements an offers the following Extras: Theatrical trailer and Image gallery.