Sally in our Alley (1931) is Gracie Fields’ first film, and is based on a 1923 play by Charles McEvoy called The Likes of Her.
Gracie plays Sally, whose boyfriend, George, was badly injured in the War – so badly that he fears she will reject him, so asks a friend to spread the word that he is dead.
Sally stays true to him even though she believes him to be dead, and like Penelope waiting for Ulysses rejects other suitors – though it has to be said that these are a pretty unprepossessing bunch.
The film contrasts two working-class girls. Sally is steadfast, hard-working, loyal and independent; Florrie Small is the opposite. Bullied and beaten by her father, she is devious, lying and thieving, and lives only for the fantasies of the cinema. Instead of working, she lies around all day reading film magazines. There’s a great scene where Sally wants Florrie to honestly express all the resentment pent up inside her, and dares her to smash all the china in the room. Florence Desmond plays Florrie in the film; on stage in 1923, apparently, it was Hermione Baddeley’s first stage success.
Disability is handled with a tact and euphemism that amount to avoidance of difficult issues. George is shown distraught in a hospital bed, and then, many years later, he is walking with the help of a stick and looks almost as good as new. In the film the implication is that he has been in hospital for ten years. The time lapse would have been far shorter, and more credible in the 1923 version.
This film was on show at about the same time as All Quiet on the Western Front, but its presentation of war is much more traditional. There is some (archive?) footage of artillery and shells as shorthand for the war, but when George wanders round London on his release from hospital, he sees guardsmen in bearskin hats marching down the Mall, and removes his hat in homage, showing that he feels respect, not resentment, for the military.
Because Sally is played (quite wonderfully) by the young Gracie Fields, there is a sub-plot about her singing that was probably not in the original play. I shall hunt out the script of The Likes of Her to see if it is significantly different in other respects.
The script credits for the film include Miles Malleson (who wrote the anti-war play D Company in 1916) and Alma Reville – Mrs Alfred Hitchcock.