Command Performance (1937)
Command Performance (1937)
Director: Sinclair Hill
Cast: Arthur Tracy, Lilli Palmer, Mark Daly
Synopsis: A popular singer goes on the run from his manager when he has problems with his voice, and becomes friendly with a band of gypsies.
Largely forgotten today, Arthur Tracy was a massive star in both the UK and the States back in the 1930s, and was known as the Street Singer thanks to his apprenticeship singing for money on the streets of Philadelphia. Born in Russia, his family moved to the USA when he was a small child, but in the mid-30s he travelled to England, where he made a string of low-budget light entertainment movies. He certainly has a fine voice, even though his style of singing went out of style when your Granny was a girl, but while his acting skills aren’t terrible, he’s certainly not romantic leading man material.
Command Performance’s desire to win an American audience is obvious not only from Tracy’s presence, but from its’ strangely Americanised version of England. Romany gypsies roam the countryside in tinker’s caravans, and lovable alcoholic tramps lead singalongs in the local pub. In addition to this idealised version of Britain, we have the bizarre spectacle of Scottish actor Finlay Currie (The Edge of the World, 49th Parallel) speaking with an American accent. At least, I think it’s supposed to American, although it is quite difficult to be sure.
Anyway, Currie is Tracy’s manager, and a money-grubbing one he is at that. While Tracy worries about his throat, his manager commits him to more and more concerts until, during a performance of Danny Boy, Tracy’s high notes go AWOL and he has to rely on the audience to help him out. Deciding enough is enough, Tracy does a runner, and falls in with a tramp-cum-poacher-cum-drunk (Mark Daly), and a family of Romany’s consisting of Papa Toni (Julian Vedey) who-a talk-a like-a dis, love interest Susan (Lilli Palmer – The Boys from Brazil), and cute little Betty (Rae Collett, sporting tight golden curls in a probable attempt to become Britain’s answer to Shirley Temple). However, it’s not long before his manager and the media begin searching for him…
British musicals were a rarity in the Thirties, so Command Performance is something of a novelty, even if it has been shamelessly Americanised. The plot is as flimsy as you’d expect – for every line of dialogue there are probably two lines of song – but its light-hearted entertainment that was no doubt quite popular as a second feature in its day, and Tracy makes a likeable leading man even if his acting performance isn’t up to scratch..
(Reviewed 8th April 2015)