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: