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teaser Irene (1940)

The musical Irene (1940) has a long and interesting history both preceding and following this screen version starring British favorite Anna Neagle. For almost two decades following its premiere at New York's Vanderbilt Theatre on November 18, 1919, the stage musical, with book by James Montgomery and score by Harry Tierney and Joseph McCarthy, held the record for the longest-running show in Broadway history. It ran for 670 performances on Broadway and spawned 17 national touring companies. The show made a star of its original leading lady, Edith Day, who successfully recreated the role in London and remained there to become the leading female star of West End musicals. The first film version of Irene (1926) was a silent starring Colleen Moore in the title role.

London-born Neagle, with the help of Herbert Wilcox, the producer-director who became her husband, became England's leading screen star in the 1930s and '40s. During the latter decade, for seven years she was voted the United Kingdom's best-loved film performer. Neagle and Wilcox made 32 pictures together. During World War II they worked together on several Hollywood productions including Irene.

Neagle plays Irene O'Dare, an Irish girl of humble origins who takes a job as shopgirl at an expensive boutique and finds herself being courted by its handsome owner (Ray Milland). Also competing for Irene's attention is a young socialite (Alan Marshal). Assigned to model at a charity ball, Irene ruins the gown she is to wear and substitutes a quaint blue dress of her mother's -- and it creates a sensation. Misidentified as the niece of Ireland's Lady O'Dare, Irene capitalizes on the false identity to promote fashions from the boutique, until a newspaper columnist uncovers the truth.

Anthony Collins was nominated for an Oscar® for his scoring of the Neagle film, which includes several songs from the original Broadway score including "Castle of Dreams," "Worthy of You," "You've Got Me Out on a Limb," "There's Something in the Air" and "Alice Blue Gown." The latter number was shot in Technicolor, while the remainder of the movie is in black and white. The bright red of Neagle's hair, not distinguishable in black and white, often drew applause in theaters during this sequence. "Alice Blue Gown" is reprised in a production number that's presented as an installment of "Rex Gordon's Moviebone News" (kidding the Movietone News shorts that were popular at the time). Among the performers are the Dandridge Sisters, one of whom was 17-year-old Dorothy Dandridge.

Lux Radio Theatre presented a version of Irene starring Jeanette MacDonald and Regis Toomey in June 1936. In 1971 Irene was revived as a stage vehicle for Debbie Reynolds, with John Gielgud (later replaced by Gower Champion) as director, and Peter Gennaro (who had choreographed Reynolds in the 1964 film version of The Unsinkable Molly Brown) staging the dances. The show opened on Broadway on March 13, 1973, as the first attraction of the new Minskoff Theatre, where it ran for 605 performances, with Jane Powell eventually replacing Reynolds. It again was taken on tour, by both Reynolds and Powell.

Producers: Herbert Wilcox, Merrill G. White (Associate)
Director: Herbert Wilcox
Screenplay: Alice Duer Miller from play by James H. Montgomery
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Original Music: Harry Tierney
Editing: Elmo Williams
Art Direction: Lawrence P. Williams
Costume Design: Edward Stevenson
Principal Cast: Anna Neagle (Irene O'Dare), Ray Milland (Donald "Don" Marshall), Roland Young (Mr. Smith), Alan Marshal (Robert "Bob" Vincent), May Robson (Granny O'Dare), Billie Burke (Mrs. Herman Vincent), Arthur Treacher (Bretherton, the Butler), Marsha Hunt (Miss Eleanor Worth), Isabel Jewell (Jane McGee).
BW & Color-101m. Closed captioning.

by Roger Fristoe

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