Cast & Crew
In the late 1920s in a London suburb at the Theatre Royal, assistant stage manager Polly Browne cheerfully helps company members, including aging husband and wife Moyra and Percy Parkhill, who had previously performed in London's prestigious West End; former American child dancing phenomenon Tommy and handsome but distant star Tony Brockhurst prepare for the matinee performance of the musical The Boy Friend . Despite the sparse audience and the absence of the show's star, Rita Monroe, director Max Mandeville orders the show to begin. Upon learning that Rita broke her ankle when her high heel caught in a trolley car rail, Max frantically orders the startled Polly to go on in Rita's place. With encouragement from Tony and Max, a mortified Polly stumbles onto the stage and although knowing all of the lines and numbers by heart, freezes until prodded along by the others. Jealous chorus girl Maisie attempts to upstage Polly, who gradually warms up to the part of "Polly," a young girl pretending to be wealthy with a mysterious boy friend who will escort her to the evening's costume ball. Meanwhile, a chauffeur-driven sports car arrives at the theater, bearing famous Hollywood talking-picture director Mr. De Thrill, who is considering turning the show into a movie. Although delighted with De Thrill's presence, Max laments Rita's absence and the shoddiness of the troupe and theater, and wistfully imagines a Royal Command Performance of The Boy Friend with spectacular sets, costumes and a full orchestra. The company and stage hands continue helping Polly through her performance, pasting lines on props and dancing around her when necessary. Onstage, Moyra's character, Madame Dubonnet, suspects that Polly has invented her exotic boy friend to cover a lowly background. When Tony makes his stage entrance, the smitten Polly visualizes the Grecian party scene as a wild outdoor party and is nearly overcome. De Thrill's presence electrifies the company and Maisie sets about to impress the director at the expense of her dancing partner Tommy. Backstage, Rita arrives at last and offers the nervous Polly encouragement by telling her to "fake it." Despite Percy's complaints about working with Polly because she is a Cockney and his continual threats of walking out, he and Moyra nevertheless perform their numbers, to Max's relief. Onstage, Tony appears as a messenger delivering Polly's "Pierrette" clown costume for the ball. Admitting that she really does not have a boy friend to accompany her as a "Pierrotte," Polly impulsively asks the messenger to be her date to the ball and his assenting song, backed by music from a record player, prompts the watching De Thrill to envision a fantastic production number in silver, black and white featuring two giant turntables on which the entire troupe dances around Polly and Tony. During intermission, Polly is so captivated by Tony that she impulsively sings longingly to a picture of him while De Thrill's attempt to contact her is cut off by the enterprising Maisie. When Polly sees Tony and chorus girl Dulcie maneuvering to be alone together, she is heartbroken. [An intermission divides the story at this point.] The show resumes and onstage Polly lies to Tony the messenger, pretending to be wealthy, and the couple dream about moving to a simple home in Bloomsbury. After the messenger departs, Polly's friends demand to know details about her boyfriend. Backstage as Polly changes costumes, she wonders why Tony continually avoids her. Fed up with Maisie's continual over-the-top antics and upstaging, Tommy and the chorus boys teach her a lesson onstage by ruining their joint number. Soon however, no one in the company can resist the urge to play up to De Thrill and each number grows more and more expansive. As their onstage characters, Polly is reunited with Tony, the messenger, who reaffirms his feelings for her. When the wealthy Lord and Lady Brockhurst appear, Tony abruptly flees, prompting Polly's friends to suspect him of some criminal behavior. Max, who joins the show in one of the final numbers, is horrified when the chorus girl accompanying him enthusiastically strips off her nurse's uniform and performs a vamp number for the amused De Thrill. Finally at the ball, when Tony fails to appear, Percy and Moyra lead the troupe in a number pitying Polly, bereft in her "Pierrette" costume. Afterward, Tony, dressed as "Pierrotte," appears, startling the truly disconsolate Polly. In a moment that is not part of the show, Tony and Dulcie present Polly with a large cake on which Tony declares his love for Polly. The show then proceeds as Tony admits he is not a messenger but the wealthy son of Lord Brockhurst and apologizes for his background. Delighted, Polly admits that she is not rich and hopes Tony can still love her. As the show concludes with Tony and Polly vowing to live happily ever after, the troupe waits expectantly, hoping and imagining that De Thrill will select them to go to Hollywood. Polly is surprised to notice Rita leaving the audience in tears and only then realizes how good she has been as an understudy. Backstage, De Thrill disappoints everyone by revealing that he has decided to make Singin' in the Rain instead and leaves a card for Polly. Certain that De Thrill will take her with him, Maisie prepares to leave the company, but in the back alley when De Thrill sees Tommy do a unique dance step he recognizes him as his long lost son and the two are reunited, leaving Maisie behind. After the director leaves with Tommy, Polly reads his card inviting her to Hollywood, but tells Tony she would prefer for them to look for a home together in Bloomsbury.
Robert La ' Bassier
Nacio Herb Brown
Justin De Villeneuve
Peter Maxwell Davies
E. A. Sheppard
Neville C. Thompson
The Boy Friend (1971) - The Boy Friend
The British director Ken Russell once commented, "I never want to do a violent, disturbing film like The Devils (1971) again. That's why I did The Boy Friend (1971). It's pure escapism and fun."
Marked by Russell's imaginative approach to storytelling, The Boy Friend is a tribute to old Hollywood musicals that moves between reality and elaborate fantasies as the film unfolds. The action centers on a vulgar, amateurish production of a featherbrained musical - "The Boy Friend" - performed in the English backwater of Portsmouth by an incompetent cast of repertory players.
The catty and pretentious cast of actors vie for the attention of their very small audience, but egos really become unhinged when a noted film director shows up in the theater for a matinee performance.
In an unfortunate stroke of bad luck, the Portsmouth production's star, Rita (Russell regular Glenda Jackson) breaks her ankle and must be relieved by the timid, mousy understudy and Assistant Stage Manager Polly Browne (English proto-supermodel Twiggy).
While famed Hollywood director De Thrill (Vladek Sheybal) sits in a theater box watching the increasingly frantic, attention-grabbing theatrics of the cast, Polly struggles to remember her lines and get through the dance numbers without ruining the production. In the process, her unaffected, shy charm manages to upstage the flamboyant grandstanding and sexually provocative frenzy of the other actors and actresses who will stop at nothing to attract De Thrill's attention.
Russell's The Boy Friend inspires a number of comic moments from the low budget song-and-dance productions on the Portsmouth stage, where set decorations often fall apart in the midst of a musical number, and the delusional fantasies of the cast occasionally lapse into grand visions of what the production could have been. As pompous stage manager Max (Max Adrian) sighs, "if only we had money," Russell unfurls a number of expensive, lavish production numbers that express Max's unfulfilled theatrical desires. Later, the love-struck Polly, who harbors an all-consuming crush on her leading man Tony (Royal Ballet dancer Christopher Gable, who also choreographed), imagines the two in a Dionysian idyll with the rest of the cast in the middle of a leafy forest.
In the original 1954 Broadway incarnation of The Boy Friend (which starred Julie Andrews), writer Sandy Wilson satirized the conventions of 1920s stage musicals. Russell offers a more affectionate and personal homage in his version, however, to Hollywood musicals of the Thirties.
Indulging his own creative fantasies, Russell stages grand scale dance numbers filled with beautiful, perfectly choreographed dancers that mimic the spectacle and sensuality of Busby Berkeley musical routines in films like 42nd Street (1933). And while Russell takes an ironic, humorous approach to the stylized conventions of old Hollywood, he clearly embraces their lovable, endearing qualities.
A large part of The Boy Friend's appeal is undoubtedly due to then 21-year-old Twiggy, in her film debut. Twiggy brings just the right note of innocence and an ethereal, delicate romantic heroine quality straight out of old Hollywood to her part. The former model sensation of Swinging London, Twiggy displays an affecting sweetness, splendid dancing ability and a lovely voice, which defy every cliche of the talentless model-turned-actress. "Twiggy is a unique person," said Russell of his leading lady. "Of all the people I have ever worked with, she comes nearer to perfection than anyone else."
Despite its many charms, The Boy Friend is often seen as an inferior film to Russell's "serious" dramas like his adaptations of D. H. Lawrence's Women in Love (1969) and The Rainbow (1989). But there is no denying Russell's wholly original and inventive self-reflexive approach to classic Hollywood musicals. Not content to merely honor those films, Russell also gives The Boy Friend a modern touch by introducing British class tension, hints of lesbianism, bawdy physical comedy and a telling comparison of film and stage craft. Russell shows where his prejudice lies, showing how in the moments of film fantasy that anything is possible, as opposed to the stage where rules of gravity and reality weigh more heavily.
Much of the criticism of The Boy Friend may also be due to a badly edited American release of the film, from which 14 minutes and key plot points were trimmed, which negatively influenced perceptions of this utterly magical film.
Director/Producer: Ken Russell
Screenplay: Ken Russell based on a play by Sandy Wilson
Cinematography: David Watkin
Production Design: Tony Walton
Music: Non-Original Music by Nacio Herb Brown and Sandy Wilson
Cast: Twiggy (Polly Browne), Christopher Gable (Tony Brockhurst), Moyra Fraser (Madame Dubonnet), Max Adrian (Max), Bryan Pringle (Percy), Catherine Willmer (Lady Brockhurst), Murray Melvin (Alphonse), Georgina Hale (Fay), Sally Bryant (Nancy), Vladek Sheybal (De Thrill), Tommy Tune (Tommy), Glenda Jackson (Rita), Antonia Ellis (Maisie).
C-138m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Felicia Feaster
The Boy Friend (1971) - The Boy Friend
The cameo role played by Glenda Jackson was originally offered to Julie Andrews, who had appeared in the original Broadway production of "The Boy Friend".
The opening credits read "Ken Russell's Talking Picture The Boy Friend." The Boy Friend was based on the Sandy Wilson stage musical that premiered in London in April 1953 and starred Anne Rogers as "Polly." Julie Andrews starred in the Broadway production the following year, marking her first stage appearance in America. In the original musical play, the setting of the story is the French Riviera. In Russell's adaptation, the rundown theater was located in a London suburb, and the story was expanded to include Polly's frustrated backstage crush on "Tony." The most distinctive addition to the film version of The Boy Friend was Russell's inclusion of several extravagant numbers, imagined by various cast members and movie director "De Thrill," in the style of famed film musical director Busby Berkeley.
News items from May 1970 stated that British producer-director Ken Russell was to produce The Boy Friend for M-G-M and intended to star famed British model Twiggy, whose real name was Leslie Hornby. In Russell's autobiography, he stated that Twiggy's mentor, entrepreneur Justin de Villeneuve, suggested her for the part. The film marked the model's screen debut. In her autobiography, Twiggy related that she spent nearly nine months learning to tap dance and sing for the role of Polly. Russell added two numbers for her, both used previously in earlier M-G-M films, "You Are My Lucky Star" and "All I Do Is Dream of You." Glenda Jackson, who had starred in Russell's successful 1969 production of Women in Love and his 1970 film on composer Tchaikovsky, The Music Lovers, appeared in an unbilled cameo as "Rita Monroe."
In Sandy Wilson's autobiography, he stated that soon after the musical opened successfully in London he was approached for the film rights by the Rank Organisation. Shortly afterward, however, Wilson sold the rights to musical producers Cy Feuer and Ernest Martin, who, when they could get no other film studios interested in the property, eventually made a deal with M-G-M.
Wilson listed several stars who, at various times, were considered for roles in the film adaptation, including David Niven, Donald O'Connor and Kay Kendall. Wilson stated that he knew of at least seven script treatments of The Boy Friend that never reached fruition. A modern biography of M-G-M musical producer Arthur Freed indicates that M-G-M secured the rights to The Boy Friend in 1957 and intended to star Debbie Reynolds in a production adapted by Dorothy Kingsley and George Wells. A November 1961 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that film producer Ross Hunter was trying to buy the rights to The Boy Friend as an M-G-M vehicle for Sandra Dee and Carol Channing. According to numerous Hollywood Reporter items in 1967, Freed had added The Boy Friend to his production schedule with a cast of unknowns from America and Europe. A January 1967 Hollywood Reporter "Rambling Reporter" column speculated that television actor Michael Callan would star in the production. A February 1967 Daily Variety news item stated that the producer also had signed George Kirgo to write the screenplay. Freed's biography indicates that Kirgo's adaptation was subsequently rejected by then studio head Robert Weitman. With M-G-M suffering from a series of business transitions that saw the lot dismantled in mid-1970, Freed left M-G-M in December 1970 after more than thirty years with the studio.
The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Music Score but lost to Fiddler on the Roof (see below). According to a lengthy June 1987 Los Angeles Times article commemorating a re-release of The Boy Friend, Russell's initial cut of the picture ran 134 minutes, but M-G-M trimmed more than 26 minutes before its release. In 1987 M-G-M/United Artists Classics restored the 26 minutes; that longer version was viewed for this entry. The longer version included two songs, "It's Nicer in Nice" and "The You-Don't-Want-To-Play-With-Me Blues" as well as the seven minute Grecian bacchanal party fantasy.
Released in United States 1996
Released in United States Winter December 1971
Based on the musical comedy stage production "The Boy Friend," book, music and lyrics by Sandy Wilson (London, 14 Apr 1953).
Released in United States 1996 (Shown in Los Angeles (Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex) as part of program "Turner's Tuners: Great Musicals From the Turner Library" October 12 - December 29, 1996.)
Released in United States Winter December 1971