Harriet Green (Jessie Matthews) is a London stage star performing one last show before she leaves her career behind to get married. After the show, her fellow actors and stagehands hold a party to celebrate her upcoming wedding.
At the party, she’s interrupted and leaves suddenly, learning that the father of her child is planning on blackmailing her for her millionaire husband-to-be’s money. She doesn’t go through with the wedding… or the blackmail scheme, instead going into hiding.
Years later, Harriet’s daughter, “Harriet Jr.,” (also portrayed by Jessie Matthews) is all grown up and has her own dreams of becoming a star on the stage. She just might make it, when her mother’s old understudy recognizes her — mistaking her for Harriet Sr.
Evergreen was directed by Victor Saville. This film aired on TCM on September 11 as one of “Bob’s picks,” introduced by the man himself, Robert Osborne. I was happy to learn that he appreciates the dancing talents of Jessie Matthews as much as I do. His introduction notes that Fred Astaire always wanted to dance with Jessie, and almost starred opposite her in this film.
The twitter crowd wasn’t too kind to this film as it aired. Scrolling through the #TCMParty hashtag the next day, I couldn’t help but feel that Cliff, Robert O., and I may be the only three people left on Earth who would consider ourselves Jessie Matthews fans.
There were a lot of complaints about the confused plot of the film and the poor sound/image quality. As an avid viewer of public domain films I wasn’t as put off by the poor quality as others would be. I prefer to watch a better print, of course, but this one was nowhere near unwatchable. Years of watching crisp and well-preserved prints has not spoiled the neglected lesser-knowns for me.
That said, Evergreen is a somewhat confusing and certainly wacky film, with some wild costumes and musical numbers. Aside from one distasteful backdrop, I personally dig the very distinctly ’30s set design of the film, and fact that some of the outfits look better-suited to Mars than to early 20th century England.
In terms of story, Evergreen is not the type of film that’s meant to be taken seriously and dissected. It’s a light watch, meant to give its stars the opportunity to show off their song-and-dance skills more than anything else. I can see how some would find Harriet’s schemes to be outlandish and difficult to keep track of.
Harriet is not much different from Matthews’ characters in other films I’ve seen from her. As I mentioned in my review of It’s Love Again, all of these Matthews musicals follow generally the same formula. A girl is looking for stardom and cooks up some sort of scheme to get it: creating a globe-trotting tabloid character (It’s Love Again), posing as a female impersonator (First a Girl), teaming up with an eccentric businessman (Sailing Along), or posing as her own missing mother (Evergreen). For fans of Matthews, her charm and hoofing are enough to make up for the sometimes-weak storylines.
Personally, I enjoyed Evergreen as much as I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve watched from Jessie Matthews’ filmography. My favorite remains First a Girl (which I actually gave a perfect score of “5/5!” when I reviewed it in January), but Evergreen is just about on par with It’s Love Again and Sailing Along, so I’ll score it accordingly: 4/5.