Review: Friday the Thirteenth (1933)

When it comes to Friday the 13th films, audiences generally recollect horror films involving a man in a ski mask. But before those gory films came to be, British film released by Gainsborough Pictures follows a group on a bus just minutes before the clock strikes midnight on Friday the 13th.

Directed by Victor Saville, Friday the Thirteenth (1933) the film begins with the following statement:

“You hear of an accident. There are victims. Strangers to one another. Supposing we could put back the clock and see how chance made these strangers share this appalling moment.”

The film begins as we see people riding a bus on a rainy night with the clock ticking closer to Friday the 13th. Lightning strikes a crane, and the bus driver has to swerve to miss the falling debris and wrecks. Newspapers flash on the screen with headlines about the wreck and that two people were killed. Before we know further, Big Ben ticks back to the beginning of Thursday the 12th and we see what lead everyone to get on this bus.

The film is divided into six stories, which are even segmented in the credits:

On the Bus: Hale and Smith

On The Bus: This follows Alf the Conductor (Sonnie Hale) and the driver Fred (Cyril Smith) as they argue about bets and discuss their superstitions.

Max Miller as Joe

Joe of the Caledonian Market: Joe (Max Miller) is a fast-talking shyster, selling phony goods in the market with undercover cops and a detective on his tale.

Mr. Jackson

Jackson the Shipping Clerk: Jackson (Eliot Makeham) is a mild-mannered clerk who is planning to surprise his wife and take her on a cruise. However his wife, Eileen (Ursula Jeans) has another lover on the side.

Wakefield the ‘City’ Man: Wakefield (Edmund Gwenn) is an important businessman who has a very forgetful wife, Flora (Mary Jerrold). While her forgetfulness frustrates him, it may help him financially in the end.

Mr. Blake

Blake the Gentleman of Fortune: Blake (Emlyn Williams) seems good-natured when we first meet him but his intentions aren’t good, particularly when meeting up with Frank Parsons (Frank Lawton) who used to be in jail.

Mr. Lightfoot in the park with the girl who needed silk stockings

Mr. Lightfoot in the Park: Mr. Lightfoot (Robertson Hare) is a befuddled little man who is conned into buying a girl a pair of silk stockings after his dog tears her stockings.

Schoolmaster Horace (Richardson) and his girl, dancer Millie (Matthews)

Millie the Non-stop Variety Girl: Millie (Jessie Matthews) is a dancer who is in love with the schoolmaster, Horace Dawes (Ralph Richardson) and the two plan to be married. However, Horace wants Millie to give up her dancing career and she doesn’t agree with his idea.

Once we learn each of their stories, the film returns to the scenes at the beginning just before the wreck. But now, we know all of their backstories. For example, we now know the man reading the travel pamphlet isn’t as happy as he appears and the one offering to pay for another’s fare isn’t so benevolent. The crash occurs again and it is revealed where each person is and who lives and who died.

While I would consider Jessie Matthews, Ralph Richardson and Edmund Gwenn to be the biggest named stars in this film, there is no main lead actor in this story. This film is a true ensemble cast and each story gets equal pay. All of the stories are entertaining and each has a different tone. Jackson’s story is a little sad or sorry, Blake’s story is threatening, and Mr. Lightfoot’s is light and comedic. I can easily say the Ralph Richardson and Jessie Matthews story was my favorite.

This is an entertaining and interesting movie. I usually enjoy a retrospective story. My only complaint was there were too many stories to keep up with. With seven different stories, I got a little confused at one point who was who, especially when a new character was brought into one of the stories.

Never the less, this is a clever film and is a lucky gem to find on an otherwise unlucky day.

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Musical Monday: First a Girl (1935)

In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

first a girlThis week’s musical:
“First a Girl” –Musical #505

Studio:
RKO

Director:
Leigh Jason

Starring:
Jessie Matthews, Sonnie Hale, Anna Lee,

Plot:
Elizabeth (Matthews) is a delivery girl at a dress store with dreams of being a dancer. One day, she borrows a dress for an audition and doesn’t get the part. In the meanwhile, she meets down on his luck Shakespearean actor Victor (Hale) who does female impersonations. After ruining the dress, Elizabeth is too afraid to return to the dress store. Victor allows her to get in on his act. When Victor is too ill to go on stage as a female impersonator, he grooms Elizabeth to act as a female impersonator, even though she is already a woman. Elizabeth becomes a huge success but problems arise when she falls in love with a man.

Trivia:
-Late remade as “Victor/Victoria” (1982) starring James Garner, Julie Andrews and Robert Preston.
-Adapted from a 1933 German film called “Viktor and Viktoria”

Highlights:
-Jessie Matthews drinking with Griffith Jones, who believes she’s a man. However, she is not used to the strong beverages that he keeps ordering.

Jessie Matthews, Sonny Hale and Griffith Jones in "First a Girl"

Jessie Matthews, Sonny Hale and Robert Griffith in “First a Girl”

Notable Songs:
-It’s Written All Over Your Face performed by Jessie Matthews
-Everything’s In Rhythm With My Heart performed by Jessie Matthews and Sonnie Hale
-Half and Half performed by Jessie Matthews
-Say The Word And It’s Yours performed by Jessie Matthews

My Review:
When this film began I kept thinking how similar it was to the 1982 film “Victor/Victoria.” Until seeing this movie, I had no idea it was a remake.
“First a Girl” is an entertaining little British film with a subject matter that would probably not have been seen in a 1935 American film. Not only is Jessie Matthews supposed to be a cross dressing male (though the audience knows she is a female), there are some homosexual innuendos and jokes that probably would not have even been seen in a pre-code American film.
When Elizabeth begins falling for Robert (Jones), it is uncertain if he likes her character because she is a man or because she is a man that seems feminine enough to be a woman. Our main character is even a little confused by this.
When I started this film, I was not familiar with any of the main actors but all of them were entertaining. The songs in this musical are forgettable, but it’s story line that is fairly unique for a 1930s film is pleasant, fun and enjoyable. If you come across this forgetting little gem, give it a whirl.

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