The Piccadilly Club owned by Valentine Wilmot played by Jameson Thomas (It Happened One Night) is a world unto itself in London of 1929. The class system of the hundreds of workers varies from the slaveys in the kitchen to the wait staff to the entertainers, especially the headliners. The hundreds of customers are a mix of the monied and the curious.
Cyril Ritchard, Gilda Gray
The dance team of Mabel and Vic is the current main attraction. Vic played by Cyril Ritchard is a particular draw for the ladies in the audience but Vic has eyes only for his partner Mabel played by Gilda Gray, the creator of the infamous shimmy dance. Mabel only has eyes for club owner Valentine Wilmot. Valentine is the man who discovered her, who made her a star, and the man she loves. When Vic leaves the success at the Piccadilly to try his luck on Broadway, he cannot convince Mabel to leave Valentine. As a solo act or even with a new partner, Mabel is no longer a top draw.
Anna May Wong
Charles Laughton makes his film debut as a squeaky wheel diner complaining about a dirty plate. The scandal of a dirty plate leads Wilmot to the scullery where a Chinese girl, Shosho played by Anna May Wong is entertaining and distracting her fellow workers with a dance. In the circle of restaurant life, it was the distraction led to the dirty plate in the first plate, which leads to Wilmot initially firing the girl. His second thoughts come about through Shosho knowing herself, what she wants, and how to get it.
Jameson Thomas, Anna May Wong
Wilmot's growing relationship with Shoso gets her the headliner spot at the Piccadilly. Shosho's success with the Club audience mirrors Anna May's domination of the film with her portrayal. Her character is by turns scheming, downtrodden, joyful, and a wilful user of the men in her life. Shosho gleefully toys with Wilmot's growing affection, throwing it in the face of the jealous and heartbroken Mabel.
King Hou Chang, Anna May Wong
Always at Shosho's beck and call is Jim played by King Hou Chang. He is her friend, her accompanist, and her emotional slave. The tangled lives of these characters are following one road, the road to murder.
Anna May Wong
Anna May Wong left America in 1926 due to the dearth of challenging and appropriate roles for a woman of her talent and ethnic background. She worked in Germany and on the London stage with Olivier. The melodramatic Piccadilly written by Arnold Bennett and directed by the stylish German master E.A. Dupont is a grand showcase for Anna May and was awarded Top Foreign Film by the National Board of Review in 1929.
TCM is screening Piccadilly on Wednesday, May 6th at 9:00 PM. Wednesdays in May the TCM Spotlight is on Asian Americans in Hollywood. Stay tuned for other opportunities to enjoy the beauty and talent of Anna May Wong.