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"Give my love to Errol Flynn if you see him in Burma!"
on 30 April 2012
Ego-trips don't come more deliriously daffy than Anna Neagle's truly bonkers Lilacs in the Spring, a bizarre, wildly unfocused and woefully misbegotten musical revisit to past triumphs like Nell Gwynn, Sixty Glorious Years and Victoria the Great that sees Neagle's wartime ENSA entertainer pursued by desperately seedy director David Farrar in between fantasy sequences brought on when she's knocked out by a Doodlebug during the blitz. Unfortunately it never seems to have a clue what it wants to be from one reel to the next.
It's not exactly been thought through even on a technical level. Starting out in black and white for the wartime scenes, it goes into colour for the first fantasy scene before returning to black and white back in the real world. So far so Wizard of Oz, but then it goes into colour when the action briefly moves to Hollywood and her movie star father Errol Flynn: ah, you think, they're contrasting sunny LA with grim London. Nope - when we return to England, that's in colour too. Then the film settles down for a bit before a misunderstanding leads Neagle to realise that Farrar really is fantastically obnoxious when he's supposed to be irresistibly charming and dream that she's Queen Victoria again, dancing the scandalous "newfangled waltz" with Prince Albert before an unwanted phone call in the Windsor Palace ballroom leads her out of her reverie and the film then changes course yet again to follow her father's romance with her mother as she rose to stardom as a musical star before going into A Star is Born-lite mode before rushing back to 1944 to wrap things up.
Much of what passes for the film's plotting seems purely spur of the moment stuff dictated by what Neagle wanted to do that particular week, and generally she seemed to want to do the kind of things good friends should talk you out of. Neagle's first appearance as Nell Gwynn is a stunning moment, energetically skipping and cavorting away like a Whirling Dervish on speed with a look of pure backwards dementia on her face through choreography that puts her at constant risk of falling over like an aunt who's had a bit too much sherry at a New Year's party. Generally she's a bit better in her other musical numbers, but while she can do the steps - though there will usually be one particular bit in any complicated number she just can't manage - she always looks like she's learned them very diligently and can't really make them look fluid or natural, making the interludes rather stilted rather than a genuinely free expression of emotion or physicality. Flynn's not a great dancer either and his singing is about on par with her dancing, but he's on such charming and engaging form here that his enthusiasm carries him through his big number Lily From Laguna and perks up the picture whenever he appears, which sadly isn't quite often enough even if he has more to do in the second half than the first. Worse, for a vanity picture, even if she does found the Chelsea Hospital and inspire ENSA to entertain the troops in Burma (cue several Errol Flynn injokes), nothing that happens to Neagle is half as interesting as Flynn's subplot, and even that would be nothing to write home about without his charisma.
A curio, then, and one that can only safely be recommended to fans of either star looking to fill in the gaps in their collection (you can also spot an unbilled Stephen Boyd making his debut in a poolside scene, though Sean Connery, also making his debut, is lost somewhere in the crowd among the extras). Unfortunately ITV DVD's print has quite a few breaks in it, generally in the musical numbers to make them even more noticeable, while the washed out color is highly variable, making it an even less attractive proposition. No extras either, but, print damage aside, it is the uncut version rather than the shorter US version released as Let's Make Up.