Street Corner (UK, 1953)

Lurid for its time

During the 1930s Warner Bros.’s used the topicality of gangsters to market their films; Street Corner, which as the poster above says is ‘torn from the records’, has a much more genteel approach to the social problems of the time. Scripted by wife and husband team, Muriel and Sydney Box (brother of Betty), Street Corner is both (slightly) radical and suffocatingly conservative. Muriel also directed though on the Talking Pictures print I saw producer William MacQuitty is credited as being at the helm (was this for the American distributors that maybe wouldn’t accept a film directed by a woman?). The film’s progressive drift is the focus on policewomen, there are three unconnected narrative strands and the intention is we get a sense of what it’s like working as a policewoman, complete with sexist Scottish copper.

The gentility comes from the middle class benevolence of the police force (as it was known at the time before it was changed to ‘service’) shown dealing with wholly working class crime and social problems. The social problems aren’t poverty, though that is represented well enough in the slums and scratty kids, but disintegrating families with neglected children. Women, of course, are much better suited to dealing with these sorts of issues! However, despite the film’s conservatism, there’s no doubting its intention was feminist and Muriel Box was no doubt a formidable filmmaker as Rachel Cook describes. It’s sometimes described as a ‘semi-documentary’ but the film style is wholly that of fiction but some location shooting and the split narratives do give it a realist tinge.

The cast is interesting, this is the first time I’ve heard Peggy Cummins use her native Irish accent and in one startling moment, when she sports a beret and sunglasses, she looks like Annie Starr from the great Gun Crazy (1950). Terence Morgan is suitably charismatic as the homme fatale but Dora Bryan’s one scene as a prostitute protesting that she didn’t mind being arrested but not by a woman is almost the film’s highlight.

Christine Geraghty’s summary is spot on: “The policewomen do not so much solve crimes as resolve family disorder, making sure that husbands, wives and childre are in the right place by the end.” (British Cinema in the Fifties: Gender, Genre and the ‘New Look’, 2000: p148).

 

Hue and Cry (UK, 1947)

A romp with kids

This reminded me of the Children’s Film Foundation films that littered the 1970s (in my memory) as B features. Although it stars Alistair Sim he hardly features and Jack Warner takes the role of the spiv-heavy (far from his Dixon persona). The focus is on the kids including one lass, Peggy Dowling (above right), who has great presence but sadly committed suicide eight years later. It was written by TEB Clarke, a stalwart of Ealing studios, and the sense of community, characteristic of the studio, is palpable in the spirited ending where a fair proportion of London’s kids rush to the rescue.

It was Charles Crichton’s third feature and there are some great expressionist moments, particularly when Warner threatens the hero (Harry Fowler), and the bomb sites are evocative of the time. It’s very much a period piece that just about doesn’t linger too long throughout its 80 minute length.

The Damned (UK, 1962)

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Couldn’t make it up

Director Joseph Losey is sometimes lauded as Brechtian, he drew attention to the artifice of film in order to estrange the audience and get them thinking, however the fractured (and somewhat estranging) narrative of The Damned comes from the messy way it was scripted. Losey didn’t like the original script, an adaptation of The Children of Light by H.L. Lawrence, and he brought in Evan Jones to rewrite, with Losey, which went on throughout the production. So it’s not surprising the film’s narratively disjointed. The children, who are being experimented upon by the British government and so are the centre of the narrative, don’t appear until around half way through. The first part of the narrative focuses on Teddy Boys terrorising Weymouth with Oliver Reed relishing the role of the deranged delinquent not unlike Malcolm Mcdowell’s Alex in A Clockwork Orange (UK-US, 1971) a decade later.

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Brooding doesn’t cover it

A rather insipid Macdonald Carey plays a middle aged American living out a mid-life crisis before being entrapped by an unlikely femme fatale (Shirley Ann Field), sister of Reed’s thug. Swedish actor Viveca Lindfors plays the free-spirited (she’s foreign) sculptor in contrast to Alexander Knox’s deranged civil servant who’s administering the tests on the children.

It is a strange film but that’s perfect for world at the time where nuclear war seemed, to some, inevitable. It’s certainly worth watching for Reed’s turn alone and I’m surprised it took so long for him to become a leading man after it but that probably reflects the lack of box office success of the film.

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In America it was marketed as These Are the Damned and the poster is a compete misrepresentation of the children; the tagline more describes the British civil servant played by Knox. The uncompromising ending is excellent.

Blind Date (UK, 1959)

Truth or career

I’m back on the Talking Pictures nostalgia trail (except most of the films are new to me) after the wonderful World Cup; I chose this as it paired director Joseph Losey and Stanley Baker (as they were in the superb The Criminal). Hardy Kruger plays a ‘happy-go-lucky’ artist (well, his proto-’60s irreverent heel-kicking during the credit sequences suggested so) who finds himself the main suspect for a murder. Baker plays the cop with working class roots who finds himself between the clipped accents of hierarchy and the truth.

The plot stretches credulity but that bothers me little when the central thesis is about the iniquities of social class. Unsurprisingly a French actor, Micheline Presle, is required to play the femme fatale, though I’m not entirely sure why the victim is Dutch; that may be simply a case of casting. The posh knobs (played by Robert Flemyng and John Van Eyssen) reminded me of Jacob Rees Mog, the Tory politician doing his best to take Britain back to the dark ages. As German newspaper described him appropriately as a “living fossil”. The middle class’s polite restrain conceals a neurotic fear of the Other. Baker plays his precarious position well and the film’s sympathies are clearly with him.

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