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An Alligator Named Daisy

The combination of Diana Dors, J. Lee Thompson and The Rank Organisation would seem an unlikely one but in retrospect, it isn't very odd at all. The Rank Organisation, connected with such cinematic giants as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, had its own proving ground, The Company of Youth, also known as the "Rank Charm School", where young stars were molded into movie icons. It was here that Diana Dors, Dirk Bogarde, Donald Sinden and Christopher Lee were all groomed for roles in later Rank films. And J. Lee Thompson, later to become famous for tough, male-oriented American films such as The Guns of Navarone (1961), Cape Fear (1962) and St. Ives (1976) actually started out doing both small crime dramas and musical comedies in Britain.

The Rank Organisation was more known for the deep, psychological works of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (The Red Shoes (1948), Black Narcissus (1947)) than comedy when An Alligator Named Daisy (1955) was released. It was Ealing Studios, late of Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) and The Ladykillers (1955) that had a lock on comedy in Britain just as MGM ruled the musical landscape in America. But Rank had Dors, Sinden and Thompson and set out to make a farcical comedy, with a couple of musical numbers, in an attempt to take some of the business away from Ealing. They even got Ealing regular Stanley Holloway to play a major supporting role and, for good measure, hired Margaret Rutherford to do what Margaret Rutherford did best: be eccentric.

The resulting film is a hodgepodge of comedy, romance and music with an alligator at the center. Peter Weston (Donald Sinden), returning to England from Ireland on a ferry, involuntarily acquires an alligator (named Daisy, of course, and oddly adorable in her own way) when her owner abandons her to him, explaining his wife will no longer accept the large-tailed reptile in her house. Weston's only wish is to rid himself of her but before he can, he runs into, and immediately falls in love with, Moira O'Shannon (Jeannie Carson), a zoo employee who loves all animals, including gators. Since Daisy seems to be the way to her heart, he vows to keep Daisy if only to get visits from Moira from time to time. The problem is, he's engaged to Vanessa (Diana Dors) and he and his parents stand to make a lot of money from Vanessa's wealthy father (James Robertson Justice) if the marriage goes through.

An Alligator Named Daisy could not be described, realistically, as a musical, and yet, it does have two musical numbers, performed by the charming and talented Jeannie Carson. When the first one strikes up, a good fifteen minutes into the first reel, it comes as quite a surprise. Usually, if a movie is going to have its characters break into spontaneous song, it's made sufficiently clear somewhere within five minutes of the opening credits. However, since Rank didn't have the budget for large-scale musical numbers in a production such as this, they spread the two numbers out, putting in one at fifteen minutes and the second roughly halfway through the film. They also relied on the talents of Miss Carson to sell the numbers all by herself and, surprisingly, she doesn't do a half-bad job, considering she's given almost no choreography and nothing, prop or set-wise, with which to work. The film contains other songs too, but performed by bands and singers on stage rather than spontaneously, within the action.

In the first number, "I'm in Love for the Very First Time," about her love for Peter, the lovely Miss Carson is forced to perform at a rather stark, flavorless petrol station, bounding from one oil drum to the other and doing her level-best to make grease rags and rubber tires into workable props. That she succeeds is a testament to her charm and likeability. The second number, in which she once again sings about her love for Peter, is even more confining, keeping her not just in her apartment, but in the bedroom, in slippers, shifting from one end of the bed to the other.

In the end, alligators, fiancées and wealthy benefactors all end up at the estate of Vanessa's father where an alligator beauty contest is being held simply to get Vanessa and Peter back in good graces (after Daisy caused a falling out). Stealing most of the audience's attention during these proceedings are Stanley Holloway, playing Peter's Grandfather, who believes all alligators should be shot on sight and James Robertson Justice, scheduling the proceedings as well as his daughter's impending nuptials as if he were scheduling a stockholders meeting.

An Alligator Named Daisy didn't perform as well as Rank would have liked and so didn't signal the beginning of a new comedy era with the studio but it did help further the career of both Dors and director Thompson. The two would work together the very next year in Yield to the Night (1956, American release title Blonde Sinner) about a murderess, played by Dors, awaiting execution by hanging. The film, which was inspired by the real life Ruth Ellis murder case, would receive three British Academy Award nominations, including Best British Film and Best Film from any Source.

Within a few years Thompson would find himself as a director in demand after the mega-success of The Guns of Navarone, followed by the moody and creepy Cape Fear (1962). While he never had hits those big again, he maintained a steady career, eventually teaming up with Charles Bronson for several films, including St. Ives and 10 to Midnight(1983).

Diana Dors was praised for her performance in Yield to the Night and it revealed that the actress, previously thought of as only a sex symbol, an "English Marilyn Monroe", was really so much more. Diana Dors would have a long and successful career, easily transitioning into more mature roles in the late sixties and seventies. She succumbed to stomach cancer in 1984, leaving the world behind at the too young age of 52. From An Alligator Named Daisy and Yield to the Night to Deep End (1970), There's a Girl in My Soup (1970) and her final film Steaming (1985), Diana Dors was a lovely and charming presence, and a good actress to boot.

Producer: Raymond Stross
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Screenplay: Jack Davies
Cinematography: Reginald H. Wyer
Production Design: Michael Stringer
Music: A.E. Durandeau, Ken Mackintosh, Edward B. Osborne, Edward W. Rogers, Stanley Black
Film Editor: John D. Guthridge
Cast: Donald Sinden (Peter Weston), Jeannie Carson (Moira O'Shannon), James Robertson Justice (Sir James Colebrook), Diana Dors (Vanessa Colebrook), Roland Culver (Colonel Geoffrey Weston), Stanley Holloway (The General).
C-88m.

by Greg Ferrara

SOURCES:
Diana Dors Official Website
Wikipedia
IMDB VIEW TCMDb ENTRY

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