Flame in the Streets (1961)
Made in the aftermath of the 1958 Notting Hill riots, Flame in the Streets is the story of one family's struggles with race relations. It tells the story of trade union leader Jacko Palmer (John Mills)...
... as he leads the struggle to get his union brothers to accept a West Indian worker Gabriel Gomez (Earl Cameron) ...
... as a foreman in the factory. If the union accepts him, he gets the job, if not then the post goes to one of the more established white workers.
However, fighting for the rights of a black worker is one thing, but Jacko struggles to accept the situation when he discovers his daughter Kathie (Sylvia Syms) is in love with a black school teacher Peter Lincoln (Johnny Sekka):
|Johnny Sekka & Sylvia Syms|
The situation is further complicated by the attitude of Jacko's wife Nell (Brenda De Banzie) ...
|Brenda De Banzie|
... who makes no attempt to conceal her dislike for the local immigrants. In a powerful moment she heaps scorn on her daughter, describing her as "No better than the whores in the High Street."
Whilst Jacko confronts his daughter and her boyfriend, in an effort get them to reconsider ...
|Johnny Sekka & John Mills|
... tensions build on the streets as white gangs confront the immigrants ...
... leading to large fight at a bonfire party:
From the pen of Ted Willis (Dixon of Dock Green creator and future Lord Willis), the story is never one dimensional. A former communist, Willis presents characters of all colours as good and bad. Jacko struggles with his own feelings and tries to conquer prejudice. At the same time Peter Lincoln admits that he also holds prejudices. When slum landlord Jubilee (Dan Jackson) ...
|Earl Cameron & Dan Jackson|
... is attacked by the white gang, his own people - who he has been exploiting in the appalling slum houses he rents to them - fail to intervene. Similarly, when Gomez in confronted by the white gang it's local white men who intervene to prevent violence ...
... sending the youths away. Willis, the old communist, is presenting the traditional leftist view: the real conflict is the class struggle, not the conflict between the races.
Yet the story doesn't preach. Both sides have good and bad: Jacko is a good man, but not a good husband. Some of the black men Gomez knows at the factory think he will do them favours because they share the same colour skin ...
|Earl Cameron (centre)|
... without realising that he just wants to win respect from everyone by doing his job properly.
Maybe the film's finest moment comes when Gomez's pregnant wife Judy (Ann Lynn) ...
... tells Kathie about the type of life she will live as the wife of a black man: life will be tough; she'll be forced to live in the worst housing; she will lose friends and be estranged from family members; people will stare at her in the street. Whilst she states that her love for Gomez is strong enough to mean she has no regrets, there is a sense of sadness in her words that suggests a pang of regret that things didn't turn out differently. It is that sense of humanity that underpins so much of the film and which gives it a genuine sense of power.
Also look out for:
|Gretchen Franklin (right) with Brenda De Banzie|
|Barbara Windsor (left)|
In a piece of curious casting, Brambell plays Jacko's father. However, in reality John Mills was born in 1908, four years before Brambell who is supposed to be his dad. The age gap between Mills and Syms, as father and daughter (22 years), was an example of better casting - certainly better than in their previous appearance together in Ice Cold in Alex in which Syms was his girlfriend.
This is also one of those films where London itself is the star. The street scenes, mostly filmed around Camden, give a good impression of the times, in particular the crumbling housing stock:
Many of the street scenes, including the final fight scene, were filmed around the junction between Hawley Road and Hawley Street in Camden.
The area is now greatly changed: Here's the pub on the street corner ...
... which has now been turned in flats:
P.S. Is this cinema's first inter-racial swimming scene?
|Johnny Sekka & Sylvia Syms|