It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.
This week’s musical:
It’s Love Again (1936) – Musical #636
Gaumont-British Picture Corporation
Jessie Matthews, Robert Young, Sonnie Hale, Ernest Milton, Robb Wilton, Sara Allgood, Warren Jenkins, Cyril Wells, Terry-Thomas (uncredited)
Peter Carlton (Young) is a gossip columnist who invents the glamorous Mrs. Smythe-Smythe, a noble Englishwoman that no one has ever met. Elaine Bradford (Matthews), who happens to be in love with Peter, is a struggling performer who poses as Mrs. Smythe-Smythe to get ahead in her career. Peter doesn’t tell Elaine that Mrs. Smythe-Smythe is a phony.
• Terry-Thomas has an uncredited role as a dancer.
• Fifth film that Victor Saville directed Jessie Matthews.
• Working title “Modern Masquerade.”
• American actor Robert Young was on loan to Gaumont-British from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
• Co-stars Sonnie Hale and Jessie Matthews were married at the time this film was released. This was one of four films they co-starred.
• Released in May of 1936 in both the UK and U.S.
• First and only film of Cyril Wells, who dances with Jessie Matthews in her major dance numbers. Wells was a Manchester bank clerk who turned dancer, and previously only practiced with Matthews off-screen.
• Costumes by Marianne
• Robert Young dancing
• Jessie Matthews dance numbers, especially “I Nearly Let Love Go Slipping Through My Fingers.”
• Jessie Matthews and Robert Young’s feet dancing under the table.
• “It’s Love Again” performed by Jessie Matthews
• “Tony’s In Town” performed by a trio
• “(I Nearly Let Love Go) Slipping Through My Fingers” performed by Jessie Matthews
• “Got To Dance My Way To Heaven” performed by Jessie Matthews
It’s a shame that Jessie Matthews isn’t better known in the United States.
A dancing and singing star, Matthews was one of England’s top film stars of the 1930s. Hollywood studios sought to sign Matthews (notably MGM), according to a March 1936 news brief in the Los Angeles Times. However, her home studio in England frequently turned these offers down.
However, IT’S LOVE AGAIN (1936) was an effort to bring Jessie Matthews to America in a Hollywood-style film. The screenplay was co-written by American writers Marion Dix and Lesser Samuels with assistance from English writer Austin Melford. Matthews’s co-star is American actor, Robert Young, who was on loan out from MGM.
The film follows Matthews, a down-on-her-luck dancer, Elaine Bradford. She follows in love with society columnist Peter Carlton (Young). Peter, with his fellow reporter/roommate Freddie Rathbone (Hale), invents the exclusive socialite Mrs. Smythe-Smythe to boost their job; painting her as beautiful, talented, wanted to many men but rarely seen. When Elaine reads about Mrs. Smythe-Smythe and realizes no one has ever seen her, she starts posing as her to break into show business.
This musical is funny, ridiculous and dizzyingly gorgeous.
Jessie Matthews is simply fabulous, and if you aren’t in love with her after she performs “(I Nearly Let Love Go) Slipping Through My Fingers” in a jeweled and sequined jumpsuit, or as she high kicks in an accordion skirt in “Got To Dance My Way To Heaven,” then I’m not sure what to tell you. She’s a charming prescience and also a wonderful dancer. Throughout her career, she was compared to Hollywood tap dancers. In my opinion, she had her own style and prescience and stands on her own without being compared to anyone else.
In addition to Jessie Matthews dancing, you have the rare opportunity to see Robert Young do a little dancing as well! I’ve never seen that in any other film.
However, Young doesn’t perform any major dance numbers with Matthews. That honor goes to Cyril Wells, who was in his first (and last) film but was a practice partner with Matthews off-screen. While Wells is an adequate dancer, he looks lifeless compared to Matthews and has little personality or energy in his face.
The May 23, 1936, New York Times review comments on this as well:
” Worst of all is the British producer’s apparent inability to find her a proper dancing partner. Our Fred Astaire, whose distaff edition Miss Matthews is, probably would seem pretty lonely up there without Ginger Rogers. Miss Matthews is practically alone even while she dances with Cyril Wells in her new film.”
Other than Mr. Wells, there are a few shortcomings of this film that are questionable content in 2021. For example, Mrs. Smythe-Smythe is painted as a big game hunter of tigers, something that was fashionable in the 1930s, but I find unpleasant today. The fictional socialite also spent time in India, so there are several references to “orientals” or singers wearing turbans.
Despite this, it’s an entertaining film that is visually beautiful and entertaining. I found myself humming some of the songs a few days after watching it.
I’m not sure how Jessie Matthews’s career would have turned out had she come to Hollywood. However, I do hope for greater awareness of these dazzling British musicals.