For Jessie, the project of making the film "Gangway" was plagued with setbacks from before its start. Gaumont British had nearly collapsed. In order for continued financing of their films the film studios at Shepherds Bush had to be closed down and space rented from Pinewood.
Jessie's relationship with her adopted daughter was a constant worry for her because she had had insufficient time to spend with Catherine. The time Jessie spent at studios for the Victor Saville films was all consuming. As a result Jessie had not formed the vital bond during Catherine's formative years. Also at this time Jessie's own Mother became terminally ill.
On the previous film to "Gangway" ("Head Over Heels"), Jessie had not liked working with her Director who was her husband Sonnie Hale because he brought their work home with him and couldn't stop talking about it. She had no respite from the film. But more important was the problem that Sonnie lacked the craft necessary for film directing. Of this Jessie said "Sonnie was a man of many talents. But I'm not sure if film drecting was one of them. He was too volatile". "Gangway" was also being directed by Sonnie, and Jessie discovered that Sonnie had been having a string of affairs. Before the shooting began, Jessie suffered several episodes of ill health which affected her ability to dance. Jessie remained focused despite the setbacks. To handle the demanding dance routines She trained hard and got into shape. Jessie's choreography continued to be done by Buddy Bradley and required perfection. The choreography in "Gangway" for the song "Moon or No Moon" was one of the most beautiful dance routines of Jessie's career. The dance showcased Jessie's ballet skills superbly including some absolutely unbelievably high kicks which by this time had become her signature.
In view of financial and directorial mayhem it is surprising how enjoyable "Gangway" is. Indeed the British Film Institute notes that "Matthews seems to be enjoying herself immensely throughout, giving the film a feel-good factor absent from some of her later work". That enjoyment may be attributed to the capers that her character finds herself in, Buddy Bradley's choreography, Alfred Junge's sets and the chic Carttel & Marianne costumes that Jessie was given to wear.
The plot in a nutshell is: New Scotland Yard inspector newly titled as Earl of Garminster is looking for 'Sparkle', a female jewel thief. He is informed that she has arrived from Vienna and sometimes poses as a maid.Assistant film critic Patricia Wayne (Jessie) is bored with her job. She wants more excitement and to be put on a big story. She is sent to meet former film star Nedda Beaumont at the Ambassador Hotel. Patricia and Bob's missions collide at the hotel and are both unknowingly embroiled in the theft of a string of pearls. Bob suspects Patricia and both pursue their missions via an ocean liner to New York. A romance ensues but before we know it Patricia has fallen into a den of gangsters and both Patricia and Bob aim high to foil a plot to steel a priceless diamond neclace.Wedding bells are within earshot but so are the mob.
"Gangway" is quite mad. The wonderful singing and dancing highlights the humour, romance and farcical moments to make "Gangway" a very entertaining musical comedy. The songs comprise "When You Gotta Sing", "Lord and Lady Whozies", "Moon or No Moon" and "Gangway". Apart from the soundtrack the songs were recorded commercially for Decca (on 9th August 1937).
Originally British Gaumont wanted to star Ray Milland opposite Jessie but Paramount were only interested in getting Jessie over to Hollywood rather than loaning out Milland. Whilst Barry MacKay was considered a substitution, he had previously proved his worth in "Evergreen" and was undoubtedly the more adept singer.
The film Opened at the Gaumont in the Haymarket London on 1st October 1937 to mixed reviews. The negative ones mainly concerned themselves with the poor directing from Sonnie Hale. Victor Saville had directed Jessie in 5 perfect features that would become firm favourites of fans. Victor was a difficult act to follow. Sonnie was a newcomer to directing films and was married to the star. He was insufficiently skilled to deal with both. However the film was fast paced, tuneful, and very humorous with great set design and good performances from all.
"Gangway" is available to buy on DVD in the UK on Network's 'Jessie Matthews Review Volume Five' and in the USA and Canada in the Rank Collection series of DVDs.