Boy Friend, The (1971)

The Boy Friend (1971), written, produced and directed by Ken Russell.

At its core is a real stage musical: The Boy Friend, a tuneful 1954 send-up of zany 1920s romantic comedies. Russell blows this out into the extra dimensions of an backstage/onstage story along with elaborate fantasy singing and dancing sequences.

Stage musicals already use exaggerated acting styles and mugging 1920s silliness pushes this out even farther, so naturally Russell piles on even more in something that looks like Busby Berkeley on acid. If this is not a cult film then I don't know what cultists want.

A surprise: the warm heart of this production is 1960s icon and early supermodel Twiggy, famous (infamous?) for her thin, boyish looks. I do not know much about her, but found her engaging as the love-smitten, earnestly shy Assistant Stage Manager who has to substitute for the star at the last moment. She seems to be playing a character much like herself, which I suspect is not as easy as it sounds. By design, she gives the only natural performance in the film.

It helps that Sandy Wilson's tunes are pleasant enough, and a couple of numbers are borrowed from Singin' in the Rain (1952).

I think theater people would like this one: the ongoing chaos and last minute disasters of a stage production, the cast playing their hearts out for small and indifferent audiences, little love affairs, some treachery and backstabbing.

I'm probably missing a lot of theater humor, but I caught:

Uncredited Glenda Jackson is the original star with a broken leg. With Murray Melvin, last seen in A Taste of Honey (1961).

Roger Ebert called the film "joyless".

Available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive and pretty good looking. Includes subtitles, always a good thing on Russell pictures.