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Maytime in Mayfair

Maytime in Mayfair(1949)

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Maytime in Mayfair (1949)

In 1949, actors Anna Neagle and Michael Wilding were two of the most popular stars and biggest box office draws in Britain. In 1946, Neagle and Wilding were paired in their first film, Piccadilly Incident, directed by Neagle's husband, Herbert Wilcox. This production kicked off an immensely popular on-screen collaboration between Neagle, Wilding and Wilcox that lasted for a total of six films including: The Courtneys of Curzon Street (also released as Kathy's Love Affair) in 1947; Spring in Park Lane (1948); Maytime in Mayfair (1949); as well as the Florence Nightingale biopic The Lady with a Lamp in 1951.

In the Technicolor musical Maytime in Mayfair, a sequel to Spring in Park Lane, Michael Wilding plays Michael Gore-Brown, a broke playboy who receives an unexpected windfall when he learns that he has been bequeathed a couture dress shop in the posh Mayfair district in the West End of London. Initially, Michael intends to sell the shop for a quick profit, but once he meets the manageress, the beautiful Eileen Grahame (Anna Neagle), he decides to not only keep the shop, but have an active role in managing it. Of course, Michael's interest in the shop has far more to do with Eileen than it does with selling dresses. Unfortunately, Michael is terrible at running the store, frequently insulting their affluent and highly discerning customers, driving them away to their competitor and rival, D'Arcy Davenport (Peter Graves)--a man who has his sights set on both the shop and Eileen.

Anna Neagle got her start in acting at the age of 13 in 1917, working on the stage as a chorus girl. By 1931, she was a featured player in the West End production of the musical Stand Up and Sing, co-starring Jack Buchanan. Film producer and director Herbert Wilcox saw one of Neagle's performances and was entranced, offering her a role in the 1932 musical Goodnight, Vienna (released under the title Magic Night), also starring Buchanan. This production was the start of Neagle's successful film career and launched her collaboration, both on-and-off screen, with Wilcox, eventually marrying the director in 1943. With a few exceptions, Neagle and Wilcox almost exclusively worked together throughout their careers, maintaining a professional and romantic relationship for over 40 years. They remained married until Wilcox's death in 1977.

Perhaps best-known today for his supporting role as Elizabeth Taylor's second husband from 1952-1957, Michael Wilding got his start in small, uncredited roles in several British films in the early 1930s and made his stage debut in 1934, appearing in various London productions as well as touring abroad. By the late 1930s, Wilding returned to the big screen and had some success, with roles in There Ain't No Justice (1939), Sailors Three and Sailors Don't Care, both released in 1940. Throughout World War II, Wilding was cast as support in several prestige projects, including Nol Coward and David Lean's In Which We Serve (1942), starring Coward, John Mills, Celia Johnson and narrated by Leslie Howard. But it wasn't until his first on-screen collaboration with Anna Neagle in 1946's Piccadilly Incident, that Wilding became a star. Aside from his work with Neagle, Wilding's most popular films are perhaps the pair he made for director Alfred Hitchcock: Under Capricorn (1949) and Stage Fright (1950).

As one of the early adopters and pioneers in using Technicolor in British cinema, Herbert Wilcox chose to film Maytime in Mayfair in color, which was still a relatively costly format at that time. While the Technicolor does little to improve the film overall, it does provide an impressive palette for two dance scenes and a fashion show sequence, (quite similar to the Columbia Pictures 1944 musical Cover Girl, starring Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly) featuring the latest looks from popular British designers.

While Maytime in Mayfair was generally unfavorably reviewed by critics, it was a fairly significant film in post-war Britain. Like many items throughout the war--such as food, petrol and coal--clothing was also rationed, including limited access to couture fashion for London's upper class. By the time the film was released in summer of 1949, the clothing ration was lifted and many of the high fashions out of Paris were finally available. While the vast majority of Britain had little interest in such frivolities, much less the financial means, seeing a story about a high-end dress shop signified a return to normalcy after a decade of violence, destruction and unrest.

Director: Herbert Wilcox
Producer: Anna Neagle and Herbert Wilcox
Screenplay: Nicholas Phipps
Cinematography: Mutz Greenbaum
Editing: Raymond Poulton
Production Design: William C. Andrews
Musical Director: Robert Farnon
Cast: Anna Neagle (Eileen Grahame), Michael Wilding (Michael Gore-Brown), Peter Graves (D'Arcy Davenport), Nicholas Phipps (Sir Henry Hazelrigg) and Thora Hird (Janet).

By Jill Blake

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