The Toye’s of life
It’s been said numerous times here on FLUSH, the absolute joy of the experiences we get to partake in, or exposed to, in our ceaseless quest to share the gems we are fortunate to regularly discover, or are brought to our attention. The inspiration is endless as we have our eyes, ears, bodies and minds winning the life lottery via music, art, fashion, travel, food, technology, motoring and in particular for myself, film.
At the heart of all these categories is storytelling, the story of the experience, the creators behind it, their journey to it, and of course our/your response to it, whatever senses it triggers for us, it’s all a celebration. Storytelling may be the beating heart of it all, but inspiration is definitely the backbone and soul, helping us to stand proud and motivate us to add many more enriching moments to our lives and those around us.
Said celebration is also we share with our superb friends over at StudioCanal, who we’ve rightly praised on many occasions for their sterling curation via their various channels, but in particular Vintage Classics, bringing much love (4K restorations), care and deserved attention to films, stories and in this particular case directors, in the guise of one Wendy Toye.
Wendy was born in 1917, had made her first showbiz appearance on stage as a dancer by the age of 3 at the Royal Albert Hall and had choreographed her first ballet by 10, it was extremely clear she had zero shortage in talent, and though primarily in the world of dance, that in itself was indeed a very broad church of influence, opportunity and inspiration through ballet, musical theatre, theatre and indeed her first film exposure in 1931 in Dance Pretty Lady, and subsequent choreography on many other films after.
Her abilities apparent, she was given her first film directing opportunity for the short film The Stranger Left No Card (1953), of which I am HUGELY grateful to StudioCanal once again for adding it as an extra on one of the films we’ll write about here, as it rides very high in the best short films I’ve EVER seen, it is STUNNING!!! But more on that shortly.
One of the many beautiful things about Wendy’s career is that she wasn’t beholden to cinema as her main calling, indeed it was very clear it was dance, movement and a very playful, whimsical enjoyment of everything. It’s also the case that outside the world of film, she didn’t have to deal with the ever controlling (suppressing) and gate keeping aspects of a male dominated industry, which of course is a detriment to everyone. But when she did decide to take on a film project, she really gave it her all.
There are two feature films being released to celebrate Toye, effectively book ending that cinematic aspect of her hyper creative career. The first is The Teckman Mystery (1954), a rather quaint and enjoyable folly into the world of military espionage via the hapless misadventures of a successful and rich bachelor playboy author, who though evidently solely focused on money, alcohol, women (in that order), manages to blunder his way through situations of what should be high tension, stress and fear of imminent death, with such indifference, and ridiculousness, that he must has been a member of the Bullingdon Club at Eton.
It’s definitely of it’s time, and despite the somewhat lack of nuance to performances (the leads John Justin, Margaret Leighton were credible theatre actors of their days), a lot of it’s enjoyment comes from just how it seems to be from another world, never mind era. Having said that, there are some very nice shots, framing and sequences of movement across the screen, aptly showing Toye’s abilities.
The real gems on this disc are the extras though. The aforementioned short about a stranger who visits a small town for a week is the sort of stuff that has to has inspired The Usual Suspects (1995) and Keyser Söze himself, as a quintessential fop takes an extremely sinister turn, indeed for it’s time, it must have had an incredible impact on the viewer, and it rightly won at Cannes. The disc is worth it for this alone, yet there’s more.
There’s a Part 1 of a breakdown of Toye’s fascinating history, plus another jewel in the form of yet another short On The Twelfth Day (1955), which is absolutely one of the best Christmas short films I’ve ever seen.
Truly allowing Wendy to release all her ability, vision and mastery of movement, entertainment, playfulness and with magically beautiful set design by Ronald Searle, where the Christmas song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ finally exposes the Truelove for the besotted nutter that he is, filling his victims house with endless chaos, it is FANTASTIC and an absolute joy to behold. Again, that and Stranger are what really sparkle on this disc, and sadly show what the world might have missed out on by not giving such free reign on equivalents in feature form.
The second bookend title is the comedy We Joined The Navy (1962) stars Kenneth More as a way too intelligent Lieutenant Commander ‘Bodger’ Badger battling the most formidable foe he’s faced in his career, the inherent stupidity of the Navy establishment itself. It’s an enjoyable romp which was a splendid shock to me, and has mild echoes of Police Academy, Catch 22 and even Carry On movies, indeed Sid James is amongst a long list of cameos that pepper the film. Slightly overlong, there is still plenty to enjoy in this perfect Sunday afternoon treat, with plenty of playful anti-establishment elements, and a rather wonderful visual joke in a title of a book the hapless US Admiral is reading as he tries to understand his British guests, ‘The English, Are They Human?’.
Again, there are excellent extras in the form of Part 2 of Toye’s career, and another very beautiful collaboration with Searle in the short The King’s Breakfast (1963) about the A.A. Milne poem about a king having issues securing some butter for his slice of bread.
If it wasn’t apparent already, the ideal would be to get both films, as they offer a stunning insight into an outstanding creative force, and talent. I was fairly oblivious to Wendy, and only knew some of her films in passing. That has been rightly corrected now, and I hope they’ll do the same for a much wider audience, as she deserves to be endlessly celebrated, as she continues to inspire whole new generations.
The Teckman Mystery and We Join The Navy are available on Blu-Ray and digital now. Visit vintageclassicsfilm.co.uk for more info.