TV & Film
The Leather Boys
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]
"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."
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
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
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
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."
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
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!"
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
Bronco Bullfrog [Dir:
Barney Platts-Mills 1969]
"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: ModCulture.com)
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
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
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
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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