Friday the 13th




Unlike the film series of the same title of the 1980s, this film is not a horror or mystery but does have suspense. This 1933 film is an excellent dramatic portmanteau. The film starts when a bus crashes at a second to midnight on Friday 13th. Big Ben's hands roll backwards and we begin learning about the lives of each passenger and how they came to be on the bus. The interwoven stories are moving, funny and dramatically retold by a glittering cast. Jessie plays 'Millie' a variety girl. Jessie is given the opportunity to show off her legs but her brief moments dancing lack the pirouettes or elegant high kicks that became her trademark under the (soon to be her) choreographer Buddy Bradley. However, as a chorus girl Millie had little opportunity to be a dancing divinity as Jessie Matthews was in real life. Rather than musical comedy, Millie's story is a slice of life concerning the difficult relationship with her fiancÚ Horrace who wants Millie to give up her stage career when they marry. They argue. Horrace fails to meet Millie after work and with the intention of meeting up with a variety agent for supper, Millie boards the bus. Horrace is beautifully played by Sir Ralph Richardson who found Jessie "delightful" to work with.



Jessie's husband, Sonnie Hale has a small supporting part in the film as the conductor for the theatrical company in Millie's story. This was the first time that Sonnie and Jessie had worked with each other. Of the other stars in the cast, most notable is Max Miller, the king of comedy. Miller plays Joe, a villain. Here we see some cheeky spirit but little of the stage bawdiness Miller was known for at that time. Other noteworthy performances are given by Martita Hunt as Agnes Lightfoot, and Edmund Gwen as Mr Wakefield. The screen adaptation has pace and infuses a slight sense of foreboding to connect the stories . What happens to each character, and what follows on from the crash, we have to wait until near the end of the film to find out.

Victor Saville directed Jessie with great flair and professionalism. There was mutual admiration of talent from Star and Director, Saville remarking in his autobiography that Jessie Matthews was known as 'one take Jessie' on set as she always got it right in the first take. With Saville's craft and clever screenplay by Sidney Gilliat and George Moresby-White, the plot unwinds flawlessly. The outcome of the accident provides closure and befitting endings for each of the stories. Wisely there is no slush, pushing of buttons, intellectual fašade or sermon here, just 97 minutes of life's dramas and a little comic relief.

"Friday the 13th" was not a chart topper but it was more successful in the USA than it was in the UK. It likely paved the way for Jessie's enormous successes of her next films on both sides of the Atlantic and unsuccessful attempts by major film figures e.g. Fred Astaire to secure Jessie to work with them in Hollywood.

More information about the film including full synopsis (and spoilers) can be found at the British Film Institutes' "Screen Online" website.




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