The Boy Friend (1971)

G | 108 or 110 mins | Musical comedy | December 1971

Director:

Ken Russell

Writer:

Ken Russell

Producer:

Ken Russell

Cinematographer:

David Watkin

Production Designer:

Simon Holland
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HISTORY

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 Apr 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 ... More Less

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 Apr 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 Nov 1961 HR 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 HR items in 1967, Freed had added The Boy Friend to his production schedule with a cast of unknowns from America and Europe. A Jan 1967 HR "Rambling Reporter" column speculated that television actor Michael Callan would star in the production. A Feb 1967 DV 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 Dec 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 Jun 1987 LAT 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.
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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
10 Feb 1967.
---
Daily Variety
15 Jun 1970.
---
Filmfacts
1971
pp. 469-74
Hollywood Reporter
28 Nov 1961.
---
Hollywood Reporter
31 Oct 1966.
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jan 1967.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Jan 1967.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 Feb 1967.
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 Jun 1967.
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jun 1970
p. 1, 9.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Apr 1971.
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 Apr 1971
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Aug 1971
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Dec 1971
p. 3.
Life
21 Jan 1972
p. 16.
Los Angeles Times
19 Jun 1987.
---
New York Times
17 Dec 1971
p. 29.
New Yorker
8 Jan 1972
pp. pp. 74-77.
Saturday Review
29 Jan 1972
p. 23.
Time
20 Dec 1971
pp. 82-83.
Variety
6 May 1970.
---
Variety
22 Dec 1971
p. 6.
Village Voice
23 Dec 1971
p. 51.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
An M-G-M-EMI Presentation
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Asst cam
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dresser
Prop master
Const mgr
COSTUMES
Cost des
Ward supv
MUSIC
Mus arr and cond
Mus assoc
DANCE
Choreog
Choreog
Dance captain
MAKEUP
Hairdresser
Hair styling
of Vidal Sassoon
PRODUCTION MISC
Cont
Film research
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the musical comedy The Boy Friend , book, music and lyrics by Sandy Wilson (London, 14 Apr 1953).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"Perfect Young Ladies," "The Boy Friend," "Won't You Charleston with Me?," "I Could Be Happy with You," "Fancy Forgetting," "Sur Le Plage," "A Room in Bloomsbury," "It's Never Too Late to Fall in Love," "Safety in Numbers," "Poor Little Pierrette" and "The Riviera," music and lyrics by Sandy Wilson
"All I Do Is Dream of You" and "You Are My Lucky Star," music and lyrics by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown
"Any Old Iron," music and lyrics by Charles Collins, E. A. Sheppard and Fred Terry.
DETAILS
Release Date:
December 1971
Production Date:
26 April--Septembert 1971at EMI-M-G-M Elstree Studios, Borehamwood, London
Copyright Claimant:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
Copyright Date:
16 December 1971
Copyright Number:
LP40546
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Metrocolor
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
108 or 110
MPAA Rating:
G
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

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 ... +


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. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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