Thursday, 17 July 2014

There Ain’t No Justice (1939)
Richard Norris, Jimmy Hanley & Mike Johnson

This film is a fascinating collaboration between two men, whose careers have been much overlooked in later years and whose careers were ended by war. In the case of the writer/director Pen Tennyson his promising career was brought to an untimely end by a plane crash in 1941 whilst serving in the Royal Navy. An Old Etonian, Tennyson was the great grandson of the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. Having worked for Alfred Hitchcock during the 1930s, he directed just three films before his death: There Ain’t No Justice, The Proud Valley and Convoy (both 1940). All three were highly acclaimed and Tennyson was a favourite of Ealing Studio’s head Michael Balcon, who considered him to have a bright future.

His co-writer James Curtis (upon whose 1937 novel the film was based) joined the army, served overseas, reached the rank of major, but returned home to a world which had changed. With both author and market changed by war, he never again achieved the heights he had reached with ‘There Ain’t No Justice’ (1937) and ‘They Drive By Night (1938). Having written five novels between 1936 and 1939 he only produced one more book between war’s end and his death in 1977. In the years that followed demobilisation from the army, his fame faded and he scraped a living, hardly acknowledging that he was once the rising star of British literature who had seen his two novels adapted for the screen within a year of publication.

The film tells the story of Tommy Mutch (James Hanley) ...
Jimmy Hanley
... who, encouraged by his success in a street brawl with an established boxer Frank Fox (Michael Hogarth) ...
Michael Hogarth
... decides to give up his job as a mechanic and turn professional under the watchful eye of trainer Harry Dunn (Mike Johnson – complete with authentic cauliflower ear):
Mike Johnson
He soon learns that the world of professional boxing is a crooked game when his promoter Sammy Sanders (Edward Chapman) ...
Edward Chapman

Edward Chapman
... gets his girlfriend Dot Ducrow (Nan Hopkins) to seduce Tommy into throwing a fight. Both are unsavoury characters with Sammy dressed in flash suits, smoking fat cigars, wearing a comical moustache and – more importantly – caring little for his boxers apart from when they are making money for him. Dot is a highly sexual character whose relationship with Sammy doesn’t stop her from openly admitting that she is looking forward to seducing Tommy:
Nan Hopkins
The first two thirds of the film are gritty and recreate the book’s feel, with boxing being a way out of poverty for ambitious young fighters. The injuries suffered by some boxers are depicted in a harrowing manner, allowing the audience to understand that this is not a pro-pugilism picture. The film even opens with a statement recognising that boxers are exploited by managers and promoters:
The problem with the film is that Tennyson and Curtis knew that many of the book’s harder themes and scenes would never get past the censor. As a result, the film changes tone towards the end and the closing scenes (and happy ending) are a far cry from the ending of the original book. It leaves the viewer feeling that, had they been able to remain true to the novel, this might have been one of the all-time greats of British cinema. Without the hard ending it remains an entertaining film but one which – pardon the pun – doesn’t deliver its final punch.

Despite this, the film is well-worth watching and is available from Network DVD as part of their Ealing Rarities series:

 To get a feel of what might have been, I would recommend getting a copy of the book which has been recently republished by the wonderful publishing house London Books:


And look out for the cardboard cut-out spectators watching the final fight scenes:


Here’s who else appears:

Michael Wilding in only his third credited screen role, with Phyllis Stanley

Jill Furse, who had previously appeared in ‘Goodbye, Mr Chips’ but never made another film after ‘There Ain’t No Justice’, and died in childbirth in 1944.
Al Millen

Edward Rigby & Mary Clare

Gus MacNaughton

John Boxer

Richard Ainley

Richard Norris



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