An Arf of Arf of Arf of Champagne
Throughout my years I have occasionally heard someone referred to as a "Champagne Charlie" but never considered where the term originated. As such when I dug out Ealing Studio's "Champagne Charlie" I just thought this was going to be a story about a performer in the era of the Victorian music halls who lived that sort of life. But it isn't, oh it's certainly about the Victorian Music Hall scene but its roots are in the history books with a story about two real performers George Leybourne and The Great Vance and their rivalry. Now whilst it may draw on real characters as inspiration "Champagne Charlie" is more entertainment than factual, creating a story about the Theatre world trying to bring an end to the popular music halls and certainly not painting anything close to a true impoverished picture of Victorian life. But it's amusing with plenty of catchy songs, plenty of humour and for those who remember them entertaining performances from Tommy Trinder and Stanley Holloway.
Having travelled down to London with his brother Fred (Leslie Clarke) with the plan to help him become a fighter Joe Saunders (Tommy Trinder) becomes a hit in a pub when he entertains the patrons with a rendition of "Arf of Arf of Arf". With Fred returning home having failed to make the grade Joe goes from strength to strength and soon Bessie Bellwood (Betty Warren - Passport to Pimlico) owner of the musical hall The Mogador comes calling and offers Joe work, changing his name to George Leybourne in the process. But whilst George becomes a hit with the audience at The Mogador he has a rival in The Great Vance (Stanley Holloway - The Lavender Hill Mob) who performs at the Gattis. But that is not the only problem as with the Theatre district becoming more and more determined to close down the Music Halls George and The Great Vance must get passed their rivalry to work together to try and help save the Music Halls from being closed.
"Champagne Charlie" is clearly a movie of two halves with the first basically covering the story of George Leybourne as he arrives in London and becomes a musical star. It covers his rivalry with The Great Vance and gives us the amusing montage of alcohol influenced songs as each tries to out do each other on the stage. How much truth there is to the story of this rivalry and in fact George's arrival is a job for the historians but it certainly entertains as it flits between George singing one song and Vance singing another till eventually they challenge each other to a comical duel.
The second half of "Champagne Charlie" covers not only the Theatre district trying to get the Musical Halls closed down but also the romance between Bessie's daughter Dolly, played by Jean Kent, with Lord Petersfield (Peter De Greef). To be honest there is no depth to any of this and again much of it ends up little more about providing another singing opportunity for Tommy Trinder but it is simply fun. Even the big drama of a Theatre boss trying to stage a fight at Bessie's The Mogador is not that dramatic just fun.
As such whilst there is a certain amount of enjoyment from the slim story to say "Champagne Charlie" was authentic would be to lie. To put it simply even the poor in "Champagne Charlie" seem to be far more wealthy than what is the truth and there is no darkness, work houses or any of the stuff you see in other movies set in the Victorian era. In a way it's not an issue because "Champagne Charlie" is all about music hall style entertainment.
But with "Champagne Charlie" being all about some old fashioned music hall entertainment it really boils down to the entertainment of Tommy Trinder and Stanley Holloway delivering their comedy songs. And yes both Trinder and Holloway deliver these songs with great comic timing which makes up for the fact that there is little else to the movie. But whilst Trinder and Holloway are the stars the supporting performances from Betty Warren as Bessie, Robert Wyndham as Duckworth and the frankly quite beautiful Jean Kent as Dolly add to the fun.
What this all boils down to is that "Champagne Charlie" is an entertaining movie but only because of the performances from Tommy Trinder and Stanley Holloway as they deliver the various musical performances. If you watched it under the impression that you were going to have a look at the real Victorian era and a story based on two real musical performers you will end up disappointed.