Featuring a fantastic Judy Garland’s farewell to films…
A successful singer, Jenny Bowman hopes to reunite with her son, who she left under the care of his father David, sixteen years previously.
I Could Go On Singing – Trailer, Umbrella Entertainment and photos © United Artists
After watching Judy Garland’s biopic last year, I found a new found love and admiration for this singer and actress. I’d previously dismissed Garland as a star (with a terrific singing voice) in that oft-repeated Munchkin movie, The Wizard of Oz (1939). A film that was in the Scottish TV loop and shown every Christmas.
After reading the plot and learning of Judy Garland’s leading man, the lovely Dirk Bogarde in this film, I Could Go on Singing (1963) it interested me immensely. As a kid, I’d learned in one of my first claims to fame, that Bogarde and my dad attended the same school in Glasgow as kids (but not at the same time). I knew then I just had to review it.
Another reason was Bogarde was an actor I’d had a bit of a crush on in his wonderfully British Doctor film franchise. These films were based on the Richard Gordon books and the films with a terribly, delightful and distinguished English cast. The stars including James Robertson Justice as Sir Lancelot Spratt as the Head Doctor along with Kenneth More and Leslie Philips as Bogarde’s (as Simon Sparrow) fellow student doctors.
There is that immortal scene with the pompous Spratt. After lecturing his medical students about the medical definition of the bleeding time he asks a distracted Sparrow… “What’s the bleeding time?”. Where Simon Sparrow, his attentions fixed on a pretty nurse jumps to attention as says “ten past ten”, just before realising his error.
So what’s it all about… The film starts in the dead of night, in London and a highly successful singer, Jenny Bowman (Garland) is visiting a doctor. She’s met by a nurse. On seeing the doctor – David Donne (Dirk Bogarde) – and their reaction it’s obvious they knew each other at another time in their lives.
Donne guides her to his doctor’s office, and despite her overfamiliar rapport keeps his guard up and professionally checks her throat. He chides her – as he is an ear, nose and throat specialist – for her smoking and advises she rests her voice.
After the nurse leaves, Donne’s guard comes down a little. Brisk and still a bit business-like he offers a drink. Over the conversation, it’s revealed they were lovers sixteen years ago, who never married despite having a son together. Donne brought up their son, Matt with his then-wife, Edith and he’s now a widower.
She’s a two-time divorcee who has never stopped feeling lonely. Bowman – an American – left him to concentrate on her singing career, and is now highly successful. And Bowman now wants to see Matt. Understandably, Donne is apprehensive about this but tentatively agrees to her meeting him. But just the once.
On visiting Matt (Gregory Phillips)’s boarding school, a fun rapport is seen with Donne and Bowman. With her dressed inappropriately for the rugby match, Donne is gallant as she gets stuck in the mud in her stilettos. On meeting Matt, Bowman tells Donne he looks like his son. With this hanging in the air, I catch my breath as it’s then apparent the boy doesn’t know his parentage, and he believes he’s adopted.
Still unaware that he’s in the company of his real parents (and my breathing returns to normal), we see Matt and Jenny form an easy and fun rapport. He’s a terribly English kid but not in a scary way like Martin Stephens’ Miles was in The Innocents (1961).
Matt would probably be described as a jolly good sort by his peers and as gentlemanly as his father. With him enthusiastically inviting her to see round his all-boys boarding school then to his school show, an opera, HMS Pinafore.
Their son wearing a frock and playing a girl and singing his wee heart out is a joy to watch. After the show, Bogarde showing his talents singing the National Anthem, with Garland kinda joining in when she knew the lines. Whether this scene was played this way intentionally or on purpose, it’s a sweet moment.
The pair go backstage, where after some egging on Bowman sings with Matt and his overawed friends to general excitement all round. Even Donne seems to enjoy watching with the others. Bowman asks them to her opening night. These concert scenes showing Judy singing a musical number as Jenny. Be it upbeat or ballad, these easily showing
Garland Bowman is head of her game.
After she hears that both the Donnes can’t attend, for her its heartbreak then joy as Matt appears alone. His father believing Matt’s staying with an aunt in Canterbury has left on his business trip to Rome. Bowman puts Matt up for the night in the Savoy and makes plans for him to go onto Canterbury the next morning.
Morning becomes night. Night becomes day. And the day becomes days. The pair spend more time together, getting closer and daily excuses are given to his aunt. Irritating Jenny’s agent (Jack Klugman), her assistant Ida (Aline MacMahon), and the aunt in Canterbury.
Bowman and Matt hope he can join her in the next leg of her tour, and travel to Paris. Matt is perplexed as to why this singer is so keen to involve him in her life, as she tells him he’s like the son she never had…
Then Donne returns home from Rome, aware of the situation, and is met by Bowman at the airport. It’s then you feel the fear of Donne’s wrath, as he’s silent but angry with her. Then it spills out. He’s understandably feeling a mixture of anger and fear for his child’s welfare.
He’s concerned about how much Matt really knows about her real role in his life and his parentage. At the hotel, a then restrained Donne curtly asking Matt to pack. The boy senses the adults are angry with each other Bowman tells him Paris won’t happen for the pair of them. Matt leaves to pack.
The pair’s anger with each other continues and turns into a heated argument. As they argue the story of their lives as lovers are revealed. We find how he brought up Matt after she couldn’t look after him, she kept away while he was married… and all this overheard by young Matt…
As much as I’d like to tell you the rest of this tale, I’m urging you to watch this to see how things turn out. But to me, the ending is lovely in that it left you with your own thoughts on its conclusion. But I could go on singing forever on how I would like to end it, but the show must go on.
The performances are wonderful with Garland showing her obvious singing talents with gusto. She belts out those musical numbers as the professional performer she is. The film including Garland musical numbers including By Myself, Hello Bluebird, It Never Was You and the song with those credits, I Could Go On Singing.
I did advise you to take toilet breaks when Bette Midler had those impromptu musical numbers in Beaches (1988) but I wouldn’t here. Here these musical numbers added to the plot and character development rather than distracted from the film as they did in Midler’s film.
Garland was equally wonderful in the dramatic and fun spoken scenes showing herself as much more than a singer. Her chemistry with her leading man was fitting as the scene demanded, leading me to empathise and understand her character and her motives. Her scenes with young Phillips were equally charming and the pair showing a credible and easy rapport in all their scenes.
One scene where her character talks to Matt on the telephone, with you only hearing Garland’s side of the conversation, took my breath away. You felt her heartbreak and devastation her character felt learning he can’t meet with her. Reminding me of a similar heartbreaking scene with Keira Knightley – an actress more renowned for her dramatic roles – in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012) and hearing only her character on the phone.
Bogarde was perfectly cast, as a terribly British doctor and it was wonderful to see him in a dramatic role. His character’s differing emotions, showing the stiff upper lipped and distant attitude we Brits are renowned were a contrast to his character’s tender, warm, and more relaxed scenes.
I felt in those latter scenes, I was silently begging him for more. I would love to have seen him in more scenes with his younger co-star and Bowman’s character. This, particularly as the end of the movie, drew near, as I felt there was much more to say and do.
Phillips was a delight from the start with his childlike enthusiasm with his more distinguished co-stars a delight. Here his character appeared overawed yet comfortable with Garland’s Bowman in their initial scenes. This leading to their close, fun adult-child banter.
His scenes as Bowman sang with his school friends came over as genuinely sweet and endearing rather than the sugary version of events that I feared after seeing the trailer. Without giving the game away, his scenes on finding the truth of his parentage were credibly played by this young talented actor.
Please don’t dismiss this as a “soap with a sprinkling of singing” after watching the film, reading this review, learning about its characters, and those Garland musical numbers. It’s much, much better than this due to this stellar cast. In addition, the wonderful on-screen relationships with the three leads are a joy to watch from start to finish.
It’s certainly a shame that Garland’s performance in those dramatic scenes was not appreciated with not even an Oscar nod. I can imagine if after seeing this film if anyone – including – James Robertson Justice asked Bogarde what the bleeding time was after this film. Bogarde, in his terribly English way, would reply, “Time Judy Garland won an Oscar, goddamn you”. As I’m sure you will agree, Judy Garland ended her film career on a high note.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 10
Hulk Rating: /10
2nd Judy Garland Blogathon 2018, No 28