By Reg Reynolds
Wonderful Things was produced by the popular British actress Anna Neagle and directed by her husband Herbert Wilcox. The film was released in 1958 and proved a big box office success and the theme song, also Wonderful Things sung by Vaughan, reached the top of the charts. I watched it on DVD recently and found it to be much better than I had expected. The movie opens with the viewer approaching Gibraltar as if they are a passenger on an airplane. An early credit sets the stage:
“CATALAN BAY on the Rock of Gibraltar takes its water from the sky, its food from the sea, its spirit of independence and adventure from those Genoese ancestors who were shipwrecked in the bay. Here, a man with a boat and a net can be independent of the whole world.”
Vaughan and co-star Jeremy Spenser play brothers, Carmello and Mario. They are fishermen but not very successful and so turn to running ‘bum’ boats and conning tourists to make a living. Carmello has an attractive girlfriend, Pepita, played by the lovely and lively Jackie Lane (later Jocelyn Lane). Vaughan was hugely popular at the time having been voted Britain’s entertainer of the year for 1957. Spenser, a very successful child actor, was appearing in a more mature role for the first time. The pretty, sexy Lane was twenty-one at the time of filming and would go on to achieve the nickname of “The British Bardo” after Brigitte Bardot, and would achieve success in America, co-starring with Elvis Presley in Tickle Me and appearing in highly rated television series such as The Man From Uncle and Wild Wild West. Although Neagle was one of the most popular British actresses at the time she doesn’t appear in the film. In the 1950s she added producing to her CV and used Vaughan in three of her films, Dangerous Youth, Wonderful Things and The Lady is a Square. She did appear in the Lady is a Square and Vaughan sang the theme song which also was a hit.
“Dozens of Gibraltarian children appear as extras in the film.”
Using their bum boats, Pepita Carmello and Mario bilk a couple of wealthy tourists, played by Wilfred Hyde White, and Jean Dawnay. Later Hyde-White confronts Carmello who is humiliated and determines to make an honest living. He travels to London with optimism and the hope of earning enough money to send for Pepita so they can get married. He gets a job at an up-market restaurant where it turns out Hyde-White and his daughter are regular customers. The head waiter is played by Ronnie Barker, of Two Ronnies and Porridge fame, in his first film role. Carmello loses his job for being too familiar with the clientele, falls on hard times and ends up performing as a wrestler at a carnival. Here Liz Frazer, who went on to great success in many British comedies including Carry On films, makes an uncredited appearance as a hot dog vendor.
“An overlooked gem of a film with beautiful music and superb performances.”
“Shot in black and white, with the innocence and charm of the 1950s. It is a real pity films like these are not shown on TV more regularly. The language is dated, a la Brief Encounter, but this adds to the charm. No violence, no sex, no swearing just some catchy songs, a happy ending, and a beautiful cast. ‘Hurry little fishes, hurry if you can – You will find a welcome, in my frying pan!’”
Dozens of Gibraltarian children appear as extras in the film and undoubtedly many are alive today and would be interested in seeing their young selves on film. Network put the film out in DVD format in 2013 as part of The British Film series and it is still available. I managed to purchase a copy and watched it on my computer. It is well worth watching.
The film ends with the same scene as the opening, only with the viewer as a passenger on an airplane flying away from the Rock.