Sunday, 7 August 2016

Family Way (1966)
Hywel Bennett & Hayley Mills
Back in the early 1980s I bought a book entitled something like 'The Fifty Greatest British Films'. This was included among them. Be warned, I doubt if it would even get into a list of the fifty greatest British films of the 1960s ... I'm not even sure it would get into a list of the fifty greatest British films of 1966 ... that were filmed in Bolton. It's not thought provoking and it's not funny. It's not hard hitting or engagingly lightweight: It's dull.
The story of a newly married couple (Hywel Bennett and Hayley Mills) whose marriage isn't consummated, due to his failure to 'perform'. This leads to his being humiliated when the whole town finds out. The trouble is, I didn't really care. The circumstances leading to his troubles (he's a sensitive soul, we know that because he listens to classical music) aren't very engaging. Also, this is the 1960s - the age of the pill, the permissive society and all that old stuff that social commentators like to go about. Can't we have an open look at sex in working class British communities? The presentation of sexual issues was actually more hard hitting in 'Love on the Dole' (1941).
Ah, did I say 'Love on the Dole'? There's a connection: both are about the sex lives of working class youngsters in the industrial north and both feature Marjorie Rhodes ...
... who appears here Hywel Bennett's mother. Twenty-five years earlier she had appeared as Mrs Bull, one of a quartet of ladies who act as the 'Greek Chorus' ("a homogeneous, non-individualised group of performers, who comment with a collective voice on the dramatic action") in that film.
In 'Family Way' there is also a group of four women who perform the same function ...
... one of whom is a Mrs Bell. Coincidence? Maybe.
Here's who else to look out for (if you can be bothered):
John Mills
Barry Foster

John Comer

Avril Angers

Kathy Staff (right)

Liz Fraser

Thorley Walters

Murray Head

Russell Walters

Windsor Davies
Oh, P.S. ...
Hayley Mills shows the audience her bum ...
... if you like that sort of thing.

Monday, 23 May 2016

My Teenage Daughter (1956)
“You weren’t so outspoken or brutal as young people are today … if you’d been born at the beginning of a war and reared through a blitz and always had the bad joke of the H-Bomb with you, might you have been brutal and perhaps a little cynical.”
This is a juvenile delinquency flick: We all know this ...
Sylvia Syms & Kenneth Haigh

... leads to this:
In the 1950s the world became obsessed by the rise of the ‘teenager’: a supposedly post-war phenomenon, the teenager was – in the eyes of the media and much of the watching world – dangerous. Juvenile delinquency was all the rage: journalists condemned it, kids found it exciting and parents found it terrifying. And, of course, film makers found it enticing. Whether mainstream (Rebel Without a Cause) or B-Movie (I Was A Teenage Werewolf), it was a subject that was ripe for exploitation. For some British filmmakers, such as Basil Dearden and Michael Relph, it was the perfect opportunity to raise serious social issues in films such as I Believe in You or Violent Playground. For others, it was just about getting bums on seats, rather than educating the public.
Whilst it is no surprise that producers wanted to exploit the teenage sensation, it is surprise to see certain names getting involved. Who would have thought that the husband and wife team of Herbert Wilcox and Anna Neagle would have decided that the story of a seventeen year old running wild was just the thing for them? After all this was the team that gave the world historical stories of strong women, such as Nell Gwynn; Queen Victoria (Victoria the Great & Sixty Glorious Years); Florence Nightingale (The Lady with a Lamp); Edith Cavell (Nurse Edith Cavell); Odette Sansom (Odette) and Amy Jonson (They Flew Alone). Then there were the London dramas with very specific titles, such as The Courtneys of Curzon Street, The Piccadilly Incident, Spring in Park Lane, Maytime in Mayfair & I Live in Grosvenor Square. And finally there was the somewhat unexpected My Teenage Daughter.
Remember, 1956 was the year rock and roll was unleashed on the British public. But look what they got!
Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the tale of some slum girl running wild, but a rather cosy, upper middle-class drama in which a journalist (Neagle)  ...
Anna Neagle
... finds her seventeen year old daughter Jan (Sylvia Syms) ...
Kenneth Haigh & Sylvia Syms
... is going out with a rather disreputable fellow, Tony Ward-Black (Kenneth Haigh). He drives a Bentley (it isn’t his), is believed to be running through his inheritance (he is actually broke) and doesn’t even use his real name (he’s really just plain old Tony Ward). But he is good looking, loves jazz clubs and has confidence by the bucketload.
It's easy to see he's disreputable: he gate-crashes parties, wears white-tie when everyone else wears black-tie ...
Sylvis Syms, Michael Meacham & Kenneth Haigh
... has friends who hang out in coffee bars, wearing duffel coats ...
... and teaches Jan to smoke and drink coffee:
Oh yeas, he also lives like this:
Kenneth Haigh
Yes, that's right. He's the type of man who will turn your nice, classical music listening daughter ...
Sylvia Syms
... into a jazz-loving, bad pyjama wearing, wild-child:
Sylvia Syms
There’s very little booze, no drugs and barely a hint of sex, but he just isn’t the right sort for Jan – as everyone but her knows. OK, Jan goes to jazz clubs but she still gets home at the end of the evening. Rebellious, eh? And she thinks about giving up secretarial college. But does she do it? Nope. But she does do a bit of driving without a licence, so that’s her entry into  the world of fully paid up destroyer of western civilisation. Or maybe not.
It’s not a bad film, it’s just a bit tame. If there was even a hint of teenage pregnancy or of her shoplifting, smoking dope … even if any of the others in the jazz club were dabbling in drugs, it might have given the film an edge. But no. This is British cinema at its most tame and middle class.
When American audiences went to see this, retitled as Teenage Bad Girl, I bet they were disappointed.
Currently available on DVD:
 Also look out for:
Arthur Mullard
Norman Wooland
Edie Martin

Monday, 28 March 2016

Mr Cinders (1934)
The Western Brothers
"Dutchmen get used to windmills,
The Spanish got used to Spanish flu,
If Germans can get used to sauerkraut,
I can get used to you."
A comic song that references Spanish flu - the virus that killed millions worldwide? Can you imagine the fury nowadays if something so destructive was treated so lightly. Just think of the Daily Mail's sense of righteous indignation!
But of course, this film wasn't made today. This was 1934, a time when some pretty dreadful British musicals were being made. And this is one of them. It's a reverse telling of Cinderella, the poor orphan cousin of a rich family (Clifford Mollison) who accidentally finds love with an American heiress (Zelma O'Neal).
Clifford Mollison

Zelma O'Neal
The 'comedy' is mainly offered through the songs of the Western Brothers, a singing duo who were popular stage performers who here take the 'ugly sisters' role.
Can I find anything interesting to say about this film? The best I can give you is a continuity error:
We see the Western Brothers walking beside the river, wearing blazers with knitted vests underneath ...
 ... spotting a half-drowned man on the riverbank they take off their jackets and dive in so they can claim the honour of having saved him. But their knitted vests have suddenly disappeared:
 However, by the time they drag him into the garden, their vests have miraculously reappeared:
 And we also see them identify the man by looking inside his suit to find his name on the tailor's label:
Yes, seriously, that's as interesting as it gets!
That said, I suppose I have to promote it since the kind people at Network DVD have gone to real efforts to make lots of old British musicals available. And, if they don't do it, no one else is going to. Then most of them would be lost, which would be a bad thing. So let's celebrate their efforts:
It is currently available as part of 'British Musicals of the 1930s, Volume 2':

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Bronco Bullfrog (1969)
Anne Gooding, Del Walker and Sam Shepherd
"I don't know what I want."
Where do you start to review a film like Bronco Bullfrog? It's a film that sought to turn film making on its head - amateur actors, playing out scenes that reflected the livesfe they knew, filmed on the streets that inspired the drama - so let's turn the review on its head and start, not at the beginning, but at the end.
Bronco Bullfrog concludes with a scene of the three main characters running through the streets. It's like a gritty pastiche of the so-called 'Swinging Sixties': when we imagine sixties cinema we think of montages of people running through the streets, the girl inevitably in a short skirt, music playing, an expression of the carefree nature of their lives and their youthful sense of rebellion. Yet this is no expression of a sense of liberation. It's an escape scene. Running away from violence, youthfully innocent stupidity and the grim reality of the streets they lived on.
This closing scene tells you so much about what the film is trying to say. It's a challenge to conventional cinema, starring local amateur actors who had been drawn into Joan Littlewood's East End theatre workshops as a way of getting off the streets and finding a way of filling a void in their lives. They are the generation that grew up in an East London heavily scarred by the Blitz, a wound that hadn't healed, instead it had been cut open again and  crudely stitched together by post-war town planners whose poorly funded attempts to create a fresh new environment had simply emphasised the wounds. If you like, we might dare to call this the bastard little-brother of Hue & Cry.
The simple story tells of Del (Del Walker) and his 15 year old girlfriend Irene (Anne Gooding) ...
... as they flirt with the notion of freedom. The sixties promise of liberation seems a world away for apprentice welder Del and his schoolgirl girlfriend. What hope do they have? Too young for the pub, nowhere to go in the evening, life hardly offers them prospects. The story of their attempted attempt to the countryside - the image of urban kids revelling in the sights and sounds of the countryside - is hardly new, but it is genuinely relevant.
Whilst the poor standard of acting and the basic storyline make it easy to ignore the film as a failed experiment, here at 'Rank & File' we like to look further. The film is a time capsule, honestly representing London in a period of flux. It's an antidote to the notion of 'swinging London'. This is as far away from the King's Road or Carnaby Street as it's possible to get. The message is that, for every David Bailey, there's a Del who doesn't have a talent to exploit and to be celebrated as a sign of integration of the working classes into London's elite.
Anne Gooding

Anne Gooding
Of particular importance are the fashions on display in the film. Nowadays, it seems that late 1960s youths are represented on screen by hippies - all long-hair and flares. But Del and his mates are nothing like that. They have grown out skinheads, some still cut short in the suedehead style, others starting to veer towards the lank, centre-parted look that grew so popular in the seventies. They wear cardigans, straight leg jeans, skinny-lapelled suit jackets and boots ...


... or skinny suits, maybe a touch of flair in the legs, plain-top slip on shoes ...

... or in the case of 'Bronco' (Sam Shepherd), heavily patterned shirts with matching tie:

His outfits reflect his position as a would-be criminal: he's the lad whose been in borstal and has no intention of giving up on a life of crime. As such, he has spare cash and dresses 'better' than the rest of the lads.
The reality of their world is further captured on the DVD release of the film which includes a short documentary about the actors and their work at the theatre workshop. It gives a fascinating glimpse into the lives that inspired Bronco Bullfrog. So, if you are looking for high-quality acting and a complex storyline filled with Hitchcockian plot-twists, this will not be to your tastes. But if you want to get a genuine taste of East London at the end of the 1960s, this isn't a bad place to start: