"THE GOOD COMPANIONS"
This musical comedy was based on J B (John Boynton) Priestley's novel of 1929 which earned him the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction and made him a national figure.
"The Good Companions" is a story of disparate characters who "run away" from their unhappy lives, meet up and join in with a broken-down touring concert-party and encounter a series of setbacks . The screenplay focuses on an unlikely trio as they try to revive the fortunes of the floundering theatrical troupe. School teacher Inigo Jolifant with his talent for songwriting, and recently unemployed Jess Oakroyd with his theatrical ambitions, together persuade Miss Trant an older single woman looking for adventure, to fund them as they attempt to bring "The Dinky Do's" back into the spotlight. Then a chorus girl, Susie Dean, who dreams of stardom, is made the new leader of the show, and her dreams look like they might come true.
"The Good Companions" producer was Michael Balcon, who chose Victor Saville to direct the film. They first worked together on the production of Saville's first film, a silent titled "Woman to Woman" in 1923. On the back of "Woman to Woman"s success Saville produced pictures for the veteran director Maurice Elvey, including the classic British silent "Hindle Wakes" in 1927. His first picture as director was "The Arcadians" in 1927. In 1929, he and Michael Balcon worked together again on the talkie remake of "Woman to Woman" for Balcon's company, Gainsborough Pictures, this time with Saville directing. From 1931, as Gainsborough Pictures and the Gaumont British Picture Corporation joined forces, Saville produced a string of comedies, musicals and dramas for Gainsborough and Gaumont-British, including Jessie's most popular pictures starting with "The Good Companions".
Jessie felt that she was cast as Susie Dean because she could understand Susie's spirited personality. That might be true but with Jessie, Saville was faced with a great dancer, singer and actress whose confidence was completely fragile and who believed that she was not photogenic. Saville sat Jessie at her dressing room mirror and told her to put on her makeup exactly as she would for the street. Jessie said "Look at my snub nose" to which Saville replied "That's just your attraction. It's a damn good face, Jessie. Look at those eyes, wide spaced, enquiring. And that nose it's cute!" Saville persuaded Jessie to let him do a series of photographic tests of her. Before starting he said " You're a hell of a good actress, just act as though you knew you were a very attractive female. Tell yourself 'I'm beautiful, I'm beautiful'." Jessie did exactly that. During the test rushes, perhaps for the first time, Jessie saw that she had become a confident beautiful actress. At that moment, in Saville's words " a star was born".
Cast in the role of Inigo Jollifant was the exceptionally talented actor John Gielgud - a member of the Terry family theatrical dynasty. Gielgud endeared himself to Jessie by telling her that he was new to films. In reality Geilgud made his first film "Who Is the Man?" in 1924. "The Good Companions" was his 4th film. Gielgud's sensitivity, whether stemming from being gay or his empathy with the fragility of his leading lady, was of enormous support to Jessie. Jessie said of Gielgud in her autobiography "Superb artist that he is, every scene in which he played was worth watching and his beautiful voice was something to listen to with joy. He was the nicest and easiest of leading men, no tantrums, no side, always co-operative and gentle and helpful, and I loved playing my scenes with him because he made it all seem so easy."
The film was released and distributed in the UK on 28 February 1933 by Ideal. It's running time of 113 minutes was unusually long for that time. Today the film feels of its time rather than ageless. It is however very entertaining with much comedy to lighten the drama. Jessie has two hit songs "Three Wishes" and "Let Me Give My Happiness To You". Here for the first time Jessie has a decent script and a mixture of challenges to illustrate her acting ability. Whilst crying scenes were not her forte, the role showed her vulnerability and she endeared and charmed the cinemagoing public. An essamblance of budding talents from the acting, producing, and directing spheres together with a successful novel created a truly successful picture internationally. Soon Jessie was to become the most successful International star of stage and screen in the UK with her 3 most successful and entertaining of films,
"Evergreen", "First A Girl" and "It's Love Again" which also were under the skilled direction of Victor Saville.
The rest of the cast were: Edmund Gwenn as Jess Oakroyd, Mary Glynne as Miss Elizabeth Trant, Percy Parsons as Morton Mitcham,
Alec Fraser as Doctor Hugh MacFarlane, A. W. Baskcomb as Jimmy, Florence Gregson as Mrs. Oakroyd, Frank Pettingell as Sam Oglethorpe
Laurence Hanray as Mr. Tarvin, Annie Esmond as Mrs. Tarvin, George Zucco as Fauntley, Frederick Piper as Ted Oglethorpe, Cyril Smith as Leonard Oakroyd, Tom Shale as the Gatford Hotel landlord, Dennis Hoey as Joe Brundit, Richard Dolman as Jerry Jerningham and Mignon O'Doherty as Mrs. Tipstead. The book was adapted for screenplay by Ian Dalrymple, Edward Knoblock, W. P. Lipscomb, and Angus MacPhail.The Cinematography was by Bernard Knowles, film edited by Fredrick Y. Smith.