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  • Spondonman15 July 2007
    George Formby's earliest surviving film (his first from 1915 is lost), restored in 2006 to a 71 minute running time from the 50 it had been heavily cut to in 1938. A full print was stumbled across 1999, and with the help of the George Formby Society has finally made it to DVD. Betty Driver's back in from the cold and the story such as it is makes a little more sense.

    Low budget no plotter has George still playing his father's creation John Willie (he even coughed loudly at one point) as the cretinous boots at the Crestonia Hotel, along with wife Beryl playing the scullery maid. A series of unlinked set-pieces, events, some genuinely funny smart-ass one-liners and songs follow, along with amateurish photography, sound, acting and singing and a few excruciating unentertaining moments. Great stuff! Songs by George: Baby, Why Don't Women Like Me, I Could Make A Good Living At That and Sitting On The Ice At The Ice Rink – all performed live with dodgy microphones; others sung by dodgy performers. Beryl and George had a better outing with their next film Off The Dole, again made on a shoestring budget but this time grabbing the attention of Basil Dean.

    I like this a lot more now with the extra 20 minutes and it's always been worth a watch, but it's not one of my Formby Favourites - as it was a pivotal development in his career its relevance can't be undervalued.
  • By almost any criterion, 'Boots! Boots!' is an incredibly crude and primitive film. It was made in two weeks, on a shoestring budget, in a room above a garage off Regent Street. Although the action takes place in several different rooms of an hotel, the entire film was shot in one room, with the furniture and set dressing changed very slightly for the different settings.

    However, 'Boots! Boots!' is a vitally important film for two reasons. It's the first starring vehicle for George Formby, and it's also the only film appearance of his wife Beryl. Although Beryl Formby began as a tap-dancer in the variety halls, she wasn't cut out for stardom. She found greater success managing her husband's career, and controlling every single aspect of his life, including his pocket money. Beryl Formby controlled her husband so utterly that he was forbidden to kiss any of his leading ladies in any of his films, and Beryl the Peril was always present on the movie set to make sure this rule was followed. (On one occasion, when Beryl Formby was too ill to be present on the set, the entire cast and crew applauded.)

    The title of 'Boots! Boots!' refers not to the Kipling poem, but to Formby's character. He plays the gormless 'boots' (bootblack) in what's meant to be a posh hotel, although you wouldn't know it from the production values seen here. Much as in Jerry Lewis's very similar film 'The Bellboy', there isn't really any plot here: the film is just an excuse to show George getting into various muddles with the hotel's manager, the chef, some guests and the scullery maid. The latter is played by Beryl Formby, who looks fairly attractive in a maid's uniform (long skirt, long sleeves; not much kink quotient) but who proves she's no actress. Eventually, George gets to skin out of his servant rig and get into white tie and tails, performing in the hotel's nightclub.

    As usual for a George Formby film, the whole affair is an excuse for his cheeky songs, which here have titles such as 'Sitting on the Ice in the Ice Rink' and 'I Could Make a Good Living at That'. In the dialogue of his later films, George referred to his musical instrument as his 'uke' or his 'ukulele', but in fact his usual instrument was a 'banjolele' -- a short-necked banjo -- rather than an actual ukulele. In 'Boots! Boots!', George actually does play a standard ukulele. The sound is less distinctive than in his later banjolele efforts, but that might be down to the poor recording here.

    Beryl Formby does a spirited tap-dance to the 'Chinese Laundry Blues', showing that her dancing ability is superior to her acting ability, but not by much. The direction and camera-work in this cheapie effort are quite bad, and much of the pacing is bad too. Still, for fans of George Formby, this is a vitally important film ... and it's an interesting example of no-budget film-making. I'll rate 'Boots! Boots!' 8 points out of 10.
  • Goingbegging27 December 2013
    The plot line is astonishing, the suspense is unbearable, the ending is masterly... Oh sorry, I meant the story of how George Formby's movie debut ever came to happen in the first place. Normally a film half as bad as this would have been forgotten overnight. But it is much more than just a curio-clip for the George Formby Society. It makes an intriguing drama in itself.

    In a broadcast just before his death, Formby said he had been traipsing round the film studios, where nobody knew him or wanted him. Then by chance, he met a producer who had admired his double-act with his wife Beryl, and said he'd like them to star in a film, if only he had a story. Happily, they were able to show him a script they'd been working on, and a new career was launched.

    Even the popularity of his later and better films is hard enough to explain. Truly staggering is that the crowds queued round the block for this amateur effort, completed in a fortnight in one room above a garage, where they kept having to ask the mechanics to turn the engines off while they were recording! Formby plays a gormless character called John Willie that his father had originally made famous in the music-halls. Here he's employed as a hotel shoeshine boy who can't even perform this simple job properly. This leads to some predictable Chaplinesque scenes, with the usual pompous manager feeling mortally insulted, until he overhears George and Beryl singing a duet, and wonders if their talents might be put to better use...

    The shortcomings are simply too numerous to list. Whole scenes that don't relate to anything before or after. Wildly improbable situations, like John Willie being left in charge of the hair-salon. Odd fragments of sub-plot that are easily missed altogether. Overlong cross-talk routines that are embarrassingly unfunny.

    As with all the big prewar UK film hits, the musical numbers are far superior to the story lines that link them (if they do). Whenever George appears, you know there's a ukulele somewhere within reach. And Beryl gets a chance to show her dancing skills too. This is one of only two film appearances ever made by Beryl, and many have commented that she's no actress. These critics obviously know little of the real Mrs. Formby, who was her husband's domineering manager, and who pops-up in showbusiness memoirs as the wicked witch of the film-set, too often for it to be coincidence. In fact, it was claimed that she deleted a scene showing the teenage Betty Driver, because she could out-dance Beryl, although Betty can actually be seen in the long-lost full-length version. Either way, be assured - Beryl's performance as the simple and sentimental scullery-maid is fine acting indeed.
  • Possibly has a certain curiosity value for lifelong members of the George Formby Appreciation Society; his first ever film, and with wife Beryl in it too.

    But its got no credible story, a hammy script, wooden acting, static camera, hardly any direction, and zero narrative propulsion or purpose.

    It looks like it got made for about 10 bob.

    Most of the disconnected bits of sketches and set ups don't work in isolation either; comedic routines, like the excruciatingly infantile "No, I'm you, and you're me" skit are embarrassingly unfunny.

    I suppose if you're a die-hard Formby fan you'll forgive how inept it is just to hear songs like "Why Don't Women Like Me?" and "Sitting On The Ice In The Ice Rink".

    Boots! Boots! is only worth watching for the dedicated George Formby Completist.