Jessie Matthews at the British Film Institute

Jessie Matthews in First a Girl
Jessie Matthews was so cute and so charming she could actually suck on a cigar without looking like a total fool.

The bfi is currently presenting a Jessie Matthews retrospective, which ends on March 11.

From Richard Stirling's bfi article: “Few stories in British show business are more potent than that of high-kicking, saucer-eyed Jessie Matthews. Born 100 years ago on 11 March 1907, as the seventh of a market vendor's eleven children, she danced her way from Soho poverty to theatre stardom – thence to blaze across the cinema screens of the world, becoming, in the words of Bette Davis, 'England's greatest star.'

“In 1936, she reached her zenith with It's Love Again, the last of five films for her mentor, director Victor Saville. But whereas Saville subsequently made the leap to MGM, Jessie – despite many offers and the dreams of her fans to see her dance with Fred Astaire – would never shoot a musical film in Hollywood.”

I've only seen the “Dancing Divinity,” as she was then known, once – well, apart from a small role in tom thumb. Matthews acts, sings, and dances in First a Girl (which will be screened tomorrow), a 1935 remake of the German musical comedy Viktor und Viktoria, released two years earlier. (Decades later, the story was remade as Victor Victoria in Hollywood.)

In the film, the pretty, charming, long-legged Mathews is a real delight – even though First a Girl is anything but. Part of the problem is Sonnie Hale, one of the dreariest leading men ever. And considering Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson, et al., that's saying something. (Now, of course, Sonnie Hale has absolutely nothing in common with the aforementioned Hollywood stars; he was prissy-ish and light on his feet.)

Anyhow, here's hoping a Jessie Matthews DVD set will be released one of these days.

Jessie Mathews bfi schedule.


Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2007 in London

NETWORK and Sidney Lumet in New York City

WILD HOGS (2007) by Walt Becker: Film Review

AMPAS/UCLA Contemporary Documentary Series

THE NUMBER 23 (2007) by Joel Schumacher: Film Review


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