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Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Classic Film Review: Irene (1940)

Irene stars Anna Neagle as the outspoken Irish girl of the title in this musical comedy romance. When we first meet her she's living with her grandmother (May Robson) and working as an upholsterer's assistant. While at the home of the wealthy Mrs Vincent (Billie Burke) she meets a friend of the family, Don Marshall (Ray Milland), who is instantly attracted to her. He gets her a job as a model for 'Madame Lucy', the designer who is actually Don himself. She attends a ball at the Vincent home and is an instant success, resulting in Don and Bob Vincent (Alan Marshal) starting to compete for her. She is assumed to be the niece of a very prestigious O'Dare and doesn't contradict the assumption, leading to a riot of publicity and excitement for the previously-unknown Irene. But who does she want to marry?

Anna Neagle essentially plays two roles in this film - the real Irene O'Dare and the mythical one she creates by accident. Of course, it's Don who fell in love with the real one and with him, she admits, she can be herself. Ray Milland does a good job as Don while Alan Marshal seems a little bland as Bob but, then, he's meant to be. There are some excellent supporting performances, notably from May Robson and the magnificent Billie Burke, but watch out as well for Roland Young as Mr Smith, with an 'i' not a 'y', and Arthur Treacher as the butler.

The plot's a little fantastical but that's to be expected from an adaptation of a state show from 1919. However, the songs are very well integrated into the action. The primary theme music comes from the gorgeous 'Alice Blue Gown' which is repeated at various points in the story, once beautifully performed in a dance by Neagle and Milland. It also forms the centrepiece of a 'Moviebone News' segment.

One of the most delightful aspects of this film comes from the sudden break into colour as Irene descends the stairs in her beautiful blue gown. The rest of the ball takes place in colour but then the grey dawn appears and things are back to normal. I have to say, I was a little disappointed the finale didn't merit a little colour explosion too. In fact, I was also disappointed that we didn't get a nice 'reveal' sequence when Mrs Vincent finds out that her potential daughter-in-law is not related to a countess after all. Given the wonderful performance of Billie Burke throughout, and accentuated in the final minutes, I would've liked to have seen that.

All in all, though, this is a light, frothy film that had me humming and smiling along (and singing 'Alice Blue Gown' for hours afterwards). Watch for the final scenes between Mr Smith and the butler alone.


Anonymous said...

Hi! I just watched this film today on TV and have found it really difficult to find on DVD to buy or even online! There are barely any pictures of that magnificent blue gown and you have one of the only ones. May I ask where you perchance got the film from?

CharmedLassie said...

Unfortunately, I can't help - I wanted it on television too! The picture took some tracking down online. I remember I was determined to find a decent picture of the dress for this post. Sorry I can't be of more help.