Cafes On Film #1

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Listings of top cafe action in old movies or TV dramas. (Period British films slotted in daytime schedules are especially good for this).

Miracle in Soho [Dir: Julian Amyes 1957] NEW
Labourer and lothario, Michael Morgan hauls pneumatic drills with a road resurfacing crew. But a job in Soho makes him realize there is something special about local barmaid Julie Gozzi who's preparing, with her Italian family, to emigrate to Canada. Just when they both least expect it, however, a miracle happens. Lots of period sets and a complete Soho trattoria to whet the appetite. Pressburger's story - originally called 'The Miracle of St. Anthony's Lane' - was written in 1934 and optioned to film at least four times.

The World Ten Times Over [Dir: Wolf Rilla 1963] NEW
"In London's sin-filled strip, there is one place where every man goes... Pussycat Alley... where everything happens!" ... "dour drama is about the misfortunes of two aging single women" ... Sylvia Syms and June Ritchie play Soho nightclub 'hostesses'. Billa is jaded and fed up with men, while Ginnie is an accomplished seductress. When a rich executive who is separated from his wife, gets involved with Ginnie, Billa becomes envious. The romantic entanglements proceed to challenge the friendship between Billa and Ginnie. 'A downbeat, realistic and gritty portrayal of a day in the life of a lustreless London' said the NFT programme. Most of the film takes place on the studio set used for the girls' flat. There is however an extended location montage in the streets of Soho which gives a good sense of atmosphere at the height of the café era - nice shot of the sign of the Heaven and Hell Coffee Bar. (Richard Gray)

The Dark Eyes of London [Dir: Walter Summers, 1939] NEW
"I like this film because it really captures the gothic London; it is halfway between being a studio-set film and one that is shot on location. So you get tantalising glimpses of actual London, like a memorable shot of the Tower of London. It's a mix between literary and documentary visions of London." (Iain Sinclair)

The Small World of Sammy Lee [Dir: Ken Hughes, 1963] NEW
"This film perfectly captures the contrasting worlds of Soho and Whitechapel. The title character is a guy who works in a Soho nightclub but comes from Whitechapel. He travels back and forth, from where he lives to where he wants to get to. It's a classic projection of a specific time and place." (Iain Sinclair)




All Night Long [Dir: Basil Dearden, 1961] NEW
More for the soundtrack and ambience. Jealousy and scheming among fired up jazzers at a party held in a London warehouse. Drummer and dope-fiend Johnnie Cousin (Patrick McGoohan in fine form) plans to set up his own band - and will do anything, no matter how underhand and devious, to realise his goal... fabulous jazz soundtrack: Dave Brubeck, John Dankworth, Tubby Hayes, Charles Mingus, John Scott and more.

Smashing Times [Dir: Desmond Davis 1967] NEW

The café which featured was in Gospel Oak. Lismore Circus is being devloped throughout the movie to make way for new council homes and regreatably the café went during this cull (Alf Sykes): "Gum snapping Lynn Redgrave and big-eyed Rita Tushingham relocate from their small rural town to the Smoke. Instantly their life savings get stolen. When they're unable to pay for a slap-up breakfast Tushingham secures a caff job washing dishes, and Redgrave is forced to work as a nightclub hostesses. Made entirely on location, Smashing Time is filled with wonderful shots of 1960s London... Desmond Davis directs from a script by George Melly, both clearly inspired by Richard Lester. The team's sheer creative exuberance limns the self-confidence of an era - within a few years the city would be mired in terrorism, recession, and managed decline. The movie zeros in on the capital's mix of hip and drab - desperately grimy and dismal city streets, cheap Camden cafes - as the rest of the country slowly emerges from decades of post-war privation... Psych group Tomorrow crop up all over the film, but the real discovery is Skip Bifferty, a band whose one self-named album is still highly sought after by collectors. (The original came complete with sleevenotes by John Peel, incorrect credits and a mistaken mono pressing

Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner [Dir: Tony Richardson 1962] NEW
Tom Courtenay plays a juvenile delinquent sentenced to a Borstal for burglary. When his sporting prowess catches the eye of the governor he is coached to compete in a race against a local public school. The film was made by independent trail-blazers Woodfall Films - founded by John Osborne and Tony Richardson - a company set up in 1958 to make the film version of Look Back in Anger. Woodfall were at the forefront of British social-realist drama, borrowing heavily from the French New Wave (most significantly Truffaut's Les Quatre Cent Coups). This cinematic revolution allowed a new breed of British actors to storm the screen. Features brief shots of Courtenay and James Bolam in a Tudor-bethan-faced transport caff lined with slot machines.

Blue Lamp [Dir: Basil Dearden 1950] NEW
"Young hood Tom (Dirk Bogarde) plans a series of robberies. But when PC George Dixon is shot the Paddington Green police investigate the West London underworld to bring the culprit to justice... Dearden's movie is an extended tribute to a Metropolitan Police force stretched in its fight against a post-war crime wave. A voice-over narration spells out the fact that the new breed of post-war criminals: "lack the code, experience and self-discipline of the professional thief... [they are] a class apart, all the more dangerous because of their immaturity". As the rozzers joss each other over egg-and-chips in the canteen, two young hoodlums, played by Dirk Bogarde and Patric Doonan, raid a suburban cinema and Dixon is shot. Dearden used real London locations in a way that was relatively novel in British films of the period: the pavements of Paddington Green and Ladbroke Grove, Edgware Road, Leicester Square; a police car chase through the grey streets of inner West London... Bogarde's cold, cruel pathetic slouch is far removed from the staid, begonia-sprouting bobbys of New Scotland Yard. Look out for DB and his gang of motley chavs pulling into a superbly grisly local caff (almost a Victorian hangover) during one of the caper-planning scenes."

Victim [Dir: Basil Dearden 1961] NEW
Some brief cafe shots and plenty of heavy-duty 50s London ambience. "Barrister Dirk Bogarde finds himself in Blackmail Corner (pre-Wolfenden) when an incriminating photograph of him in a car with a boy surfaces. Bogarde (sporting a wonderfully crafted hairstyle) is superb, at once repulsed and unapologetic about his lifestyle. Though the offending snap is never shown we are assured "there is as much pain in both faces". Dearden directs Victim as a kind of film noir thriller. Otto Heller's cinematography accentuates the shadow world of nocturnal London, frequently obscuring the characters behind walls or shadows, portraying a Britain ill at ease with anything other than normality. This was Rank's cinema history landmark: the first film to mention the word 'homosexual'. Authority figures mull over "horrid imaginings" and "unfortunate devils"; inverts plead "I find love in the only way I can", "Nature played me a dirty trick". The lead blackmailer is sensitively flagged - a motorbike, a fondness for boxing, a framed picture of Michelangelo's David! Talking of flags, check Bogarde's sly smile upon being made aware he is in the same room as three less closeted male homosexuals; and the look on his face when asked if he knows that the boy he has been seeing was homosexual: "Yes" he replies "I had formed that impression". Bogarde declared the role altered his screen career for the better. Pauline Kael complained: '[Victim] gives a black eye to the heterosexual life, with the unwarranted assumption that that if homosexuality wasn't a crime, it would spread and heterosexuality would be unable to survive in a free market'."



Sapphire [Dir: Basil Dearden 1959]
Racial intolerance surfaces as a pregnant girl, assumed to be white, is murdered. Good honest coppering however unearths her 'mixed' racial origins. Public prejudice and police bigotry duly have their collars felt - despite the gobsmacking caution: "No matter what the colour of the skin, you can always tell when the bongo-drums start beating."

"Made shortly after race riots broke out in London and Nottingham, Sapphire is a graphic portrayal of ethnic tensions in 1950s London. (It's is also notable for showing a successful, middle-class black community: "Sapphire is at first assumed to be white, so the appearance of her black brother Dr Robbins (Earl Cameron) is genuinely astonishing, provoking involuntary reactions from those he meets, and ultimately exposing the real killer...

Despite his intelligent handling of the issues, Dearden is not immune to prevailing prejudices, equating a young woman living alone in London with promiscuity, and seeing an enthusiasm for jazz as evidence of dubious character.

The film is littered with casual, unchallenged racism: sexy petticoats found in Sapphire's room are evidence of 'the black under the white'. A landlady justifies evicting Sapphire by saying 'Would you be pleased, Inspector, if someone gave you a brass sovereign?'"

Critic Nina Hibbin writing about Sapphire in the Daily Worker (9 May 1959) expected more from a director signed up to the liberal cause: "You can't fight the colour bar merely by telling people it exists. You have to attack it, with passion and conviction. Commit yourself up to the hilt. Otherwise you're in danger of fanning the flames" (ScreenOnline)


Hell Drivers [Dir: Cy Endfield 1957] NEW
"A neglected fifties classic - This Sporting Life with lorries! Motorheads on the move! - but certainly the most exhilarating film ever made about people driving ballast to building sites. A bunch of moody truckers mooch away lunch breaks in old cafes wondering whether to expose their cheapjack haulage firm boss who pushes drivers to recklessly break the speed limits on the winding English country roads. Stanley Baker is Tom Yately, an ex-jailbird signing up with a crooked haulage firm where unforgiving Cartley [William Hartnell] is the corrupt manager. The drivers have to make high-speed runs to collect their bonuses, sweating as the speedometer hits 40mph, all in pursuit of number one driver Red [Patrick McGoohan]. After Tom's Italian friend Gino [Herbert Lom] is killed by Red and Cartley, Tom sets out to put an end to the scam ­ killing the two when their truck goes over the edge of a quarry during the pursuit. Hell Drivers collects together every 'tough guy' UK actor in 50s; no mean feat at a time when 'anyone for tennis' matinee idols ruled the roost. The sheer pace of the movie can be attributed to director Cy Endfield's background in Hollywood B movies. He was a victim of the blacklist and came to England to keep on working. The film is also notable as the first meeting of Stanley Baker and Endfield, who formed a production company and went on to make the epic Zulu. The amazing supporting cast features Sean Connery, Patrick McGoohan, William Hartnell, Herbert Lom, Gordon Jackson, David McCallum and Alfie Bass. (Carlton's DVD does credit to the Vistavision black and white cinematography. Of chief delight are two contemporaneous extras: a 'making of' featurette showing the social and cinematic background of the film; and an interview with Stanley Baker during the making of Sea Fury with unintentionally hilarious questioning: "So Stanley, why aren't you mining in Wales?")"

West Eleven [Dir: Michael Winner 1963] NEW
"Winner's first significant film, West 11 is a sympathetic study of bedsitland and its rootless drifters, filmed on location around Notting Hill. Joe Beckett (Alfred Lynch) forgoes working in a seedy district of London. Instead, he hangs out in jazz clubs and chases women. Ex-Army veteran Richard Dyce (Eric Portman) shows up at one club, and the two directionless louts begin to talk. Richard wants his Aunt killed for her money, and Joe agrees to do the deed. He travels to the Aunt's house on the South Coast, but Joe loses his nerve. He accidently pushes the woman to her death, leaving a miniature chess kit behind as evidence he was at the scene of the crime. A worthy slice of grainy, black-and-white social realism. Songs include: "West 11" (Stanley Black, Acker Bilk), "What a Gas" (Tony Kinsey), "I'm Traveling," "La Harpe Street Blues," "Creole Bob," "Gettysburg" (arranged by Ken Colyer). (During the opening credits, Lynch walks past the pillared portico of a once-imposing four-story house, cracked, ravaged and peeling, and doubtless carved up into crumby bedsits. Five years later, this same house would be the setting for Cammell and Roeg's eye-popping melange of magic mushrooms, homoerotic gangsterism, rock decadence, gender fluidity and Borgesian excess - Performance)... The location filming gives an authentic feeling of life in Notting Hill at the time... The backgrounds are perfect: the tall faded terrace houses, sad in shabby decay; the puddled sidewalks; the nearby coffee bars and sticky cellar jazz clubs; the shifting, superficial friendships and the frantic search for companionship in casual bed intimacies. The first meeting between Joe Beckett (Alfred Lynch) and Dyce (Eric Portman), takes place in a real 1963 Wimpy bar, easily identifiable as somewhere in Aldwych, opposite Bush House. We see both the exterior and then several views of the impossibly cool interior. It may well be the best cinematic record of an early 60s Wimpy Bar. As if this wasn't enough, there are also two long scenes inside The Troubadour in Earls Court, looking exactly the same then as it does now - or at least as it did before it expanded into the next door premises a few years ago. Interesting that Winner tested Julie Christie for the lead in West 11, but was turned down by his producer who believed that she was a B-picture actress!"
(Richard Gray)

The L Shaped Room [Dir: Bryan Forbes 1962] NEW
More stark British realism and repression than you can wave a sauce-bottle at... "A young French girl, Jane (Leslie Caron), arrives alone at a boarding house in London. Beautiful and withdrawn, she encounters the residents of the house, each a social outsider in their own way: a lesbian, a struggling writer, a prostitute, a jazz musician... Themes of abortion, sexuality, race and class are are all explored with a frank charm. With jazz sequences by John Barry, The L-Shaped Room (1962) feels like half a new wave film - a mid-point between the innovation of the Woodfall Films and the mainstream of the British film industry. What The L-Shaped Room conveys best is a feeling for Englishness, which is affectionate but not uncritical. (As Toby, observes of couples in a dance hall: "the English always take their pleasures so sadly.") Having a French heroine accentuates awareness of national traits: there is a mean-mindedness in the character of Doris; a bitterness and profound insecurity in Toby; envy in Johnny and resignation in Sonia and Mavis. Yet there is also a spirit of togetherness and tolerance in the film. Eventually Jane, the outsider, initially fearful and brittle, comes to appreciate this. (The Smiths opened The Queen Is Dead with a scene from the film: Christmas time at the house with Mavis leading everyone through an off-key chorus of Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty.)"

Seance on a Wet Afternoon [Dir: Bryan Forbes 1964] NEW
"The darkest, and possibly the best, of the five films which Richard Attenborough and Bryan Forbes co-produced. Forbes adapted it from a 1961 novel by Mark McShane - a British-based crime writer who also wrote oddities such as The Crimson Madness of Little Doom (1966), Ill Met by a Fish Shop in George Street (1968) and Lashed But Not Leashed (1976)! With its Moors Murderer overtones, the film turned out to be the last and least financially successful of the Attenborough/Forbes collaborations. Myra (!) Savage (Kim Stanley), plays a medium who hatches a plot to kidnap a child and use her powers to help find it, in order to achieve professional fame. Her decent, put-upon husband, Billy (Richard Attenborough), is a reluctant accomplice. A classic psychological thriller, the film's opening is slowly and deliberately paced as we see Myra and Bill exchange increasingly strained and sinister dialogue while making methodical preparations around their house. The kidnap and ransom sequences - Bill's frantic race at Piccadilly Circus tube - are tense and taut. The bleak British atmospherics are rammed home by the dreary winter landscapes shot in black and white. John Barry's score, one of his earliest for a major film, is extremely effective. (The novel was filmed again in Japan in 2000 as Korei, directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa)."

Beat Girl [Dir: Edmond T Greville 1960]
A 16 year-old 'wild child' art student acquires a new stepmother with a secret past, and is finally rescued from Soho vice by her 'square' father... Beat Girl belongs firmly in the exploitation genre (the film's poster read 'This girl could be YOUR daughter!') alongside other contemporary British films with scenarios involving vice and/or striptease, such as Passport to Shame, The Rough and the Smooth and Too Hot to Handle...

The screenplay takes a typically prurient, News of the World approach, allowing the viewer to enjoy the illicit activities of strip clubs and Soho vice but with a perfunctory moral tagged on at the end... To Jennifer, the home is 'a morgue' and she finds release in frequenting coffee bars, jiving and 'living for kicks' - that the latter is based on something stronger than coffee is hinted at in Adam Faith's line, 'Drink's for squares, man'...

East Ender Faith, [is] a sullen iconic presence and the bleak, nihilistic 'soul' of the film. Set decoration is low budget, consisting of contemporary LP covers. And to please the lads, as well as striptease, 'baby doll' or flimsy nighties are regularly featured... But the contrived final image of the father united with daughter and wife is unconvincing - Jennifer may have turned her back on striptease and vice, but it seems likely that she will be back with her beat friends at the first opportunity." (ScreenOnline)


Brief City [Dir: Maurice Harvey & Jacques Brunius 1952] NEW
"Brief City is a 20 minute black and white film about the Festival of Britain, issued in 1952, produced by Richard Massingham and scripted by Observer journalist Patrick O'Donovan, whose paper financed the production as a way of commemorating the Festival. After an initial sequence showing the empty site awaiting demolition, O'Donovan and Hugh Casson are seen walking through the crowds on the South Bank, and a voice-over commentary explains the purpose and meaning of the Festival, with some other shots of different parts of London. Sequences of people dancing in the evening are specially memorable."

Bronco Bullfrog [Dir: Barney Platts-Mills 1969] NEW
"Bronco Bullfrog has become one of the leading cult films of the sixties, despite only ever showing once on TV, and only recently appearing on video. As a piece of neo-realism the film is a fascinating document of working class life in London's East End in 1969. It tells the story of a 17-year-old welder's apprentice who lives in London's East End. He and his friends have little money, nothing to do and nowhere to go. They get their kicks robbing from the local cafe, bragging of their friend 'Bronco Bullfrog' who is on the run from Borstal and dreaming of girls and criminal adventures which are unlikely ever to be. The films cast wore their own gear, three-button suit jackets, turned up jeans, steel toe capped boots, braces , chunky cardigans, button down shirts, crombies. They also helped on the script as much of the performance was improvised and came from real incidents they had experienced." ... "Bronco Bullfrog is the first film Mike Leigh should have made. It is set in the East End and was filmed in six weeks in and around Stratford. Using young actors from Joan Littlewood's acting workshop... Bronco Bullfrog follows the resigned council estate life of one Del Walker, harassed at home, harassed by his girlfriend's mother. One day, he meets up with Bronco, a mate on the run from borstal, & together they pull off a job. Then the police come knocking..."
(Paolo Hewitt:

The Offence [Dir: Sidney Lumet 1973] NEW
A UK downer mood-piece of rare - and raw -power... "Sidney Lumet's harrowing portrayal of police brutality revolves around the psychic meltdown of Detective Sergeant Johnson (Sean Connery). Johnson's anger and aggression, suppressed for years, finally surfaces when interviewing a child-molestation suspect, Baxter (Ian Bannen). A brutal verbal and physical showdown ensues. The bleak unrelenting dourness of late 60s/early 70s England in chronic socio-economic decline is palpable. Direction borders on the murky - dark lighting, endless rain, mysterious flashbacks, unsettling nightscapes - as Lumet probes the abstract and inexplicable recesses of the two leads. Psychological dramas don't come any grimmer; for reviewers, and the paying public, it was all too much. Lumet's stark realism and the clenched power of Connery's performance really hurt." The fearful electronica soundtrack by Harrison Birtwhistle manifests the tension superbly. Brilliant, and unbearable.

That'll Be The Day [Dir: Claude Watham 1973] NEW


 Robert Lindsay/David Essex in 'That'll Be The Day'

'Has at least one 1950s milk-bar/cafe scene, early on, where the teenage anti-hero (based on John Lennon) has his place taken by two leather-jacked Rockers whilst at the counter buying coffee for a pair of giggling girls...' (David Stanton)

Made on the Isle of Wight, New Musical Express of 10/28/72 reported: "The film features the music of the times (before the Beatles). The Everly Brothers are seen in the picture, as are Viv Stanshall and Bill Fury who fronts a mythical band of the period. It is this band, known as the Stormy Tempest and the Typhoons, that is creating particular interest because of its star-studded line-up. The personnel is of a flexible nature and Keith Moon, Pete Townshend, Ron Wood, Graham Bond and John Hawkins have already been featured in soundtrack recording... Stevie Winwood and Jack Bruce have now joined this array of musical talents." (Malcom Mclaren is supposed to have been a costumier for the movie.)

* * *

"That'll Be the Day effectively evokes late 1950s Britain. It focuses on the rites of passage of its shiftless young protagonist rather than on adult manipulators as depicted in earlier pop films such as Expresso Bongo (d. Val Guest, 1959). And it is more effective in its low-key way than its conventional sequel Stardust (d. Michael Apted, 1974).

The film recreates the period with telling details: the radio plays Robert Farnon, and Take Your Pick (ITV, 1955-68) is on television. But change is in the air. The energy of the fairground and rock 'n' roll are contrasted with restraint and conformity, promoted by religion (a religious service is heard on Mrs MacLaine's radio).

The contrast between a tamed middle-class and untamed working-class youth is depicted through their respective music, trad jazz and rock 'n' roll (tellingly, the holiday camp judging panel for a jive contest includes a vicar, presumably to ensure decorum). Rock 'n' roll supplies raw energy and suggests no such restraint. With almost continuous rock 'n' roll on the soundtrack, the film was also able to exploit the EMI back catalogue. The soundtrack album sold well and the film soon recovered its modest investment.

The film honestly chronicles Jim's sexual encounters in this pre-pill era. Jim thinks only of himself and instant gratification, and the girls, though willing, associate sex with guilt and shame - twice Jim's partners beg him "you won't tell anyone will you?", and it is surely no coincidence that two of his sexual exploits are interrupted by the moral rejoinder of screaming babies.

Ray Connolly's screenplay cleverly references the early 1960s British New Wave: a fairground beating up recalls Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (d. Karel Reisz, 1960), while a dying grandfather evokes Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (d. Tony Richardson, 1962). And external film references abound: The Duke Wore Jeans (d. Gerald Thomas 1958) at the Ritz and a visit to see Horrors of the Black Museum (d. Arthur Crabtree, 1959).

Directed by Claude Whatham, fresh from Granada TV, this is one of the best British films of 1970s. Rosemary Leach was BAFTA nominated (Best Supporting Actress) and David Essex (BAFTA nomination Newcomer) achieved film stardom. The settings (whether domestic, fairground or holiday camp), vividly captured by cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, are real and convincing, and the performances are true, conveying a sense of lives as actually lived."

Roger Philip Mellor / BFI



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