Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Irene (1940)

IRENE was a very pleasant discovery, a blend of musical and screwball comedy starring Ray Milland as Don, a wealthy playboy who secretly owns the swankiest dress shop in New York, and British actress Anna Neagle as Irene, the Irish shopgirl he loves. When Don secretly arranges a modeling job for Irene at his store, all sorts of complications -- romantic and otherwise -- ensue.

IRENE has quite a cast. Alan Marshal and Marsha Hunt, two actors I enjoy very much, play the second leads, with Billie Burke as Marshal's absent-minded mother and Roland Young as the manager of Milland's dress shop. Arthur Treacher plays one of his patented deadpan butler roles ("If butlers told all they knew, society would be a shambles!"). May Robson (FOUR DAUGHTERS) plays Neagle's grandmother. Way down in the uncredited cast you can even find Dorothy Dandridge, who performs in a musical number when Irene attends the theatre.

Years ago I happened to read Anna Neagle's autobiography THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW and found it interesting, but this was the first time I'd actually seen her in a film. I found her quite enjoyable, although I wasn't particularly wowed by her style of singing and dancing. While her dance with Milland at a ball was lovely, her solo dance near the end of the film was repetitive and seemed a bit out of place plotwise. That said, she was just right in the part, and a good match for Milland, who was at his charming and comedic best in this film.

The film has a number of unique touches -- perhaps the most noticeable is that while most of the movie was filmed in black and white, there is an extended Technicolor party sequence in the middle of the film, which takes perhaps 20-25% of the film's 101-minute run time. THE WOMEN, released the previous year, also had a Technicolor sequence in the middle of an otherwise black and white film, but it's perhaps more effective in IRENE. In IRENE the party is actually part of the storyline and helps convey Irene's wonder at being part of a high society ball, whereas in THE WOMEN color was used simply for a fashion show that was extraneous to the plot. The color scenes in IRENE are so beautiful -- showing off Neagle's red hair and "Alice Blue Gown" to perfection -- that it makes one wish the entire movie were filmed in color. At the end of the color section, a card appropriately reads "Comes the Cold Grey Dawn," and we're back to black and white.

IRENE was directed by Herbert Wilcox.

IRENE is not available on DVD or video, but can be seen on cable on Turner Classic Movies. Visit the TCM page to indicate interest in a DVD release or request that TCM schedule the movie.

May 2014 Update: IRENE is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive. My review of the DVD may be found here.


Blogger Missy said...

I've never seen Irene, but I liked Neagle in Yellow Canary. I'll have to watch for Irene.

Missyisms http//missyisms.typepad.com

11:01 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'll watch for YELLOW CANARY, as I mentioned she is brand-new to me!

Thanks much,

11:06 PM  
Blogger Irene said...

Well, I'll be. I didn't know there was a movie with my name :) I've always known about the song "Goodnight Irene" (which I've had sung to me ever since I was in elementary school), but not a movie. How disappointing that it's not on VHS or DVD.

By the way I did get "The Women" from the library. Interesting. I had a hard time keeping the characters straight. The DVD had some extras including that fashion show filmed slightly differently and in black and white. Overall I would rate it as a B-.

11:06 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I hope this film will be available eventually so you can see it, Irene. It was released on video in England, I assume because Neagle was a big star there, but apparently never here.

Thanks for the feedback on THE WOMEN! It definitely had a big cast (grin). The extra about the fashion show sounds interesting.

Best wishes,

11:09 PM  

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