London Town (1946)


(director/producer: Wesley Ruggles; screenwriters: from a Wesley Ruggles story/ Siegfried Herzig/Val Guest/Elliot Paul; cinematographer: Erwin Hillier; editor: Sid Stone; music: Tutti Camerata/Jimmy Van Heusen; cast: Sheila Bligh (London Town’ Dozen & One Girl), Kay Kendall (Singer) Greta Gynyt (Peggy Sanford), Mary Clare ( Mrs. Gates), Claude Hulbert (Belgrave), Sid Field (Jerry Sanford); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: NR; J. Arthur Rank Productions/United Artists; 1946-UK/USA)
Tacky and Tasteless.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Britain’s first major Technicolor musical was a calamitous attempt to make a high-budget musical like Hollywood. The idea was to import American director Wesley Ruggles and give him top money and creative freedom. The result is an unabashed legendary turkey. It was made towards the end of WW11 when rationing and shortages of materials were everyday realities. It was filmed in a place that was requisitioned during the war as a factory for aircraft parts. That studio at a much later date became known as ‘Shepperton Studios.’

Sid Field, who had clout at the time because of his recent success on stage with his very popular stage variety shows, was able to dictate his own terms for the film and insisted on having an American director. He was of the opinion that no British director had the ability to make a good musical. J.Arthur Rank was eager to do the project and shelled out the big coin. Top US songwriters were commissioned, musicians were placed under “long term contracts”, and the studio expensively re-equipped just about everything. Rank was rolling in profits and was confident that it was a sound decision hiring a director like Ruggles who was on a down-slide in Hollywood and who had little experience with musicals.

The film was so expensive to make that it needed a great box office just to break even, as the crowds came but just not enough for it to turn a profit. Also, most critics were dismissive, calling it “Tacky and Tasteless”.

Sid Field plays a has-been comedian who hopes to stage a comeback in a spanking new revue. But he’s hired only as an understudy and bit player. His faithful daughter Petula Clark pulls a few tricks and gets her dad to replace the comedian he is understudying.

The Songs in “London Town” include: ‘You Can’t Keep a Good Dreamer Down’, ‘The ‘Ampstead Way’, ‘Any Way the Wind Blows,’ ‘So Do I ‘ (performed by 1940’s Dance Band singer Beryl Davis), ‘My Heart Goes Crazy’, and a medley of cockney songs: ‘Knock ’em in the Old Kent Road’/’Any Old Iron’/(My Old Man said) ‘Follow the Van’. The music and lyrics were by Bing Crosby’s regular collaborators, Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke.

The film has some value, as it provides an historical record of 1940’s variety material with comic sketches and musical production numbers.

Making her film debut in a small supporting part is Kay Kendall, who a decade later became a big star. Kay sang “The Ampstead Way.”