Last year, I bought an Ealing film collection on dvd, mainly because it contained an old favourite of mine. I’ve been slowly working my way through the rest of the features, some of which I had never heard of before. One of these hitherto unknowns was ‘The Love Lottery’ (1954) starring David Niven. The film’s title and its star led me to believe that I was letting myself in for 90 minutes of fluff. Which I didn’t really mind at that point. Sometimes when you’ve had the stuffing knocked out of you, a bit of fluff fits the bill nicely. Although on the whole I must say, I don’t go in for soppy.
But the presence of Herbert Lom in the cast list raised my interest levels, and turned out to be an indicator of a little more depth than I was expecting. Rather than being just another love story, this is also a wry – and still very pertinent – commentary on fame. Niven plays a heart-throb film star (pushing the boundaries of believability if you ask me – he looks about 50 and has a receding hairline) who is followed everywhere by swarms of swooning teenage girls. He gets very tired of this attention and flees his Hollywood studio for Europe. He ends up in the Italian town where Lom’s character runs a lottery company. Lom immediately sets Niven up with a huge gambling debt during a night in his casino. In order to pay the debt off, Niven agrees to be the prize in a worldwide love lottery – he will marry the holder of the winning ticket.
The character that I found the most interesting was that of the holder of the winning ticket. She is depicted as the typical fan; young and totally obsessed. Her little single bed is surrounded by pictures of him. She has a boyfriend who wishes to marry her - a lovely turn by a youthfully handsome Gordon Jackson. Personally given the choice between Niven and Jackson I’d pick Gordon – I wonder if that’s a deliberate ploy? But instead of concentrating on what he has to say to her, she is too busy dragging him off to the flicks and mooning after figures on the screen. Then going home and crying into her pillow. How her life is adversely affected by her obsession with fame is nothing to her real experience of it later on when she goes to meet her prize. Her dreams are shown up for the fantasy that they are. Dogged at every step, she has her first evening with Niven ruined. In the middle of a teenage scrum, she has her ballgown torn – an obvious but fitting metaphor for the destruction of her fame dream.
Ultimately, this film shows that those who seek fame are fools. Fame destroys the lives of those who achieve it, to the point where they become the puppets of others. Nothing has or ever will change in this respect. Those who seek fame, or use it as a benchmark for achievement or the subject of prolonged fantasy fritter precious life away. Both aspects place us firmly in the hands of those who only wish to make money from our folly.
We would do well to press this still very relevant message home again.