Cafes On Film #2

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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).




Mickey One [Dir: Arthur Penn 1965]
"Like any genre with a long run, noir has had to reinvent itself... and post-modern life has cooperated by continuing to fuel numerous anxieties - dread, uncertainty, paranoia - that won't go away." (Foster Hirsch, Detours and Lost Highways: A Map of Neo-Noir) Warren Beatty plays a Detroit stand-up comic in the Lenny Bruce/Mort Sahl mould. Facing bad mob debts he flees to Chicago but cannot shake the paralyzing conviction that he's being pursued. He drifts along keeping an extremely low profile and doing odd jobs. Performing under the name Mickey One, he returns to the stage for an existential showdown with his unseen pursuers... Shot with French New Wave aplomb, Penn's squalid urban mise en scène, trippy editing, and a wildly improvised Stan Getz score combine to create a combustible, neo-noir vision of 60s America in the grip of full-blown paranoia. (In one spectacular scene, Mickey stands on a dark stage and performs an audition for someone who may be in the control booth, and who may be trying to kill him; the spotlight weaves around the dark stage as Mickey tries to hide.)... According to Penn, Mickey One came about when he told the studio he could make a film for a million dollars - a pittance even in 1965 - on the condition that the studio did not get to see the script in advance. The story was influenced by the lingering effects of McCarthyism. Deemed bizarre and opaque in 1965, Mickey One disappeared swiftly after it was released. Its art-movie atmosphere of malaise and anxiety, together with its romantic anti-hero and unconventional style, would all become familiar elements of American movies ten years later."

Sliding Doors [Dir: Peter Howitt 1998] NEW
Gwyneth Paltrow discovers that time has reversed itself for a few seconds and that a second version of herself has been created. Her two realities move forward in tandem: in one she forms a happy, new, loving relationship; in the other her life becomes more and more wretched as she takes on two jobs to support her worthless, cheating boyfriend..." Laughter and tears ensue. Lots of beautiful fill-in shots of the old Regent Cafe and Milk Bar on the Edgware Road in all its bracing lime-Vitrolite glory.

Scandal [Dir: Michael Caton Jones 1989] NEW
"In 1989, Palace were a thriving company dedicated to producing intelligent, relevant and commercial movies in Britain (Scandal opened in the UK on the same day as Rain Man, and beat it at the box office.) Scandal was slickly made and superbly marketed with a strong cast. Four years later Palace were bankrupt. Scandal was originally intended as a TV miniseries, but was downscaled to make a two-hour film. Ian McKellen took on the role of Profumo to make a point: he'd recently come out and he deliberately played a man known for his heterosexuality. John Hurt comes off best, conveying Stephen Ward's charm and loucheness in the early days..." Some scenes were shot in the long-gone Brunest cafe which used to sit opposite Mile End tube, and which is now an Estate Agents.




Billy Liar [Dir: John Schlesinger 1963] NEW
With its clutch of misty-eyed, heart-wrenching cafe scenes - Billy in a Bradford coffee bar with one of his girlfriends, Billy waiting at the station cafe to leave the provinces for London - this British new wave classic is a parable of an era: "an embodiment of a specific time in British pop history: Britain was about to elect its first Socialist prime minister; the Beatles were about to break through on the international music scene; and British youth everywhere were on the verge of renouncing the cultural repression that had enslaved them since the end of World War II'. With the 50s turning into the 60s, Billy's town is on the brink of being entirely rebuilt. This was the decade of a newly forged working class, with a sense of social mobility and a notion that hard work and imagination might just be enough to get you places. The real Cool Britannia: 'suave, sexy, and confidant.' The movie was shot entirely on location in Bradford. The location of Billy's office can still be found in Southgate [look out for the plaque unveiled by the film's director John Schlesinger in 1996] Undercliffe Cemetery and Bradford's War and Queen Victoria Memorials are amongst the city centre locations also used in the film..." Astounding cinematography from Denys N. Coop and wonderful incidental music by Richard Rodney Bennett. True!

The Caretaker [Dir: Clive Doner 1963] NEW
FIlmed mainly in a derelict house (31 Downs Road, Hackney) rented for the purpose from the L.C.C., the film's finance was raised by Noel Coward, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Sellers. "Shooting took place in the bitterly cold winter of 1962 over six weeks - after three weeks of rehearsal - with no studio work and only a few short exterior scenes (one in a frowsting, steamed-up cafe looking out onto a typical 60s high street.) It is a study of shared illusion, tragic dispossession and a fraternal bond of unspoken love ... It is a fascinating, funny, eerie film, a work of murky evocations boiling out of a grubby naturalistic minutiae... a flowing, engulfing, sometimes rightly claustrophobic work: slightly condensed but fully realized... Aston, a reticent man, lives alone in a top-floor cluttered room of a small abandoned house in a poor London district. He befriends and takes in an old derelict who has been fired from a menial job in a cafe: in time Aston offers him a job as caretaker of the house. Aston's brother, Mick - a taunting quasi-sadist - harries the derelict when his brother is away, countermanding his orders. Eventually Aston, himself irritated by the cantankerous old man, puts him out... as Pinter has written, it is 'funny up to a point. Beyond that point it ceases to be funny, and it was because of that point that I wrote it.'" (Stanley Kauffmann, New Republic, Jan 25 1964)

Terence Davies Trilogy [Dir: Terence Davies 1980] NEW
The eclipsing English masterpiece of Moribundia: "Made over a period of some seven years, the Terence Davies Trilogy spans the period from Terence Davies's earliest work as a filmmaker through to his emergence as one of the outstanding British directors of his generation... three films chart the life and death of Robert Tucker, brought up - like Davies himself - in a Catholic working-class home in Liverpool. Robert is bullied at school and has a violent father who dies while the boy is still young. He is left to live alone with his mother, to whom he is devoted. As an adult, he struggles with his homosexuality, and the feelings of guilt and shame induced by his sexuality are sharpened by his Catholicism... bringing an extraordinary intensity of emotion to the screen. The Trilogy contains some bold experiments with what was to become the fully-fledged 'memory-realism' of Davies's later Liverpool-set films... the long bus journey he takes with his silent, weeping mother... the track around the stations of the Cross and the church as, on the soundtrack, Robert pleads with the tattooist... the funeral of his mother in the opening sequence of Death and Transfiguration... A deliberate imprecision of time - a refusal of period settings, a merging in the films' narration between the present and various times past - marks the entire trilogy... throughout the Trilogy develop a cinematic language which expresses the universality of the experience of remembering." (Screenoline)

Queen of Hearts [Dir: Jon Amiel 1989]
Featured the history of an Italian family setting up a cafe in the East End and was well reviewed. It is available on video but has a rather Disneyfied approach. Many Clerkenwell-type location scenes focus on the Italian experience in London. Total soap of course but good interiors and dozens of seeming continuity errors! Heartwarming.

The Leather Boys [Dir: Sidney J. Furie 1965]
"Two working-class Londoners, both 18, get to know each other as members of a gang responsible for minor break-ins and thefts. Dick lives with his grandmother. Reggie is married but unhappy with his wife and the claustrophobic conditions in which they live. He is a rocker, following the fashion of wearing heavy leather gear and driving a powerful motorcycle. When Dot, his wife, tells him she is having someone else's baby, he leaves her and, with nowhere else to go, ends up with Dick. Sleeping together in the same bed, they find themselves kissing and falling in love. Unhappy with life in London, they decide to find work in the Merchant Navy and see the world. Before they go, they will commit one more robbery, this time on their own - which is where all their plans go wrong..." Supposedly one of Morrissey's favourite films, The Leather Boys was made by Sidney J Furie and featured Rita Tushingham, Colin Campbell, Dudley Sutton, and Gladys Hens. It's a bold and engaging drama set against the decadent motorcycle clubs of 1960s England, The Leather Boys, "combines the sexual frankness and harsh realism of the British New Wave with the homoeroticism of Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising." Some cafe scenes were filmed in what is now a delightfully ramshackle antiques warehouse near Tilford in Surrey. Unflinching.

The System/The Girl Getters [Dir: Michael Winner 1964]
Rarely seen, The System is a great lost document of 60's British mod culture utilizing the talents of many artists who went on to more celebrated accomplishments. "Michael Winner (Death Wish), directs the late Oliver Reed, who stars as Tinker, the leader of a gang of blazer-and-necktie sporting youths who are on vacation at a seaside resort- picking fights, terrorizing tourists, and leaving a trail of disheveled young females in their path. The ruggedly handsome Tinker, however, is not prepared for one of his many young female conquests to capture his heart. Nicholas Roeg (Performance, The Man Who Fell to Earth), does a creative job behind the camera in this captivating, authentic precursor to Quadrophenia..." Some hot Fish Bar action! "The Girl Getters is the title used for the 1967 US release, which got Winner a lot of attention. In Britain the film would have seemed very out of date by 1967; by then Winner had moved on to successfully capture the spirit of the swinging sixties in such films as The Jokers and I'll Never Forget Whatsisname. The latter of which features Oliver Reed in a reworking of his character from The System." (Richard Gray)




Two Left Feet [Dir: Roy Ward Baker 1963] NEW
"No less than six caff scenes! Grungy, rather than Formica cool, but they do faithfully echo the opening paragraphs of David Stuart Leslie's book In my Solitude (1960) on which the film is based: 'The caf where it started and ended is still there - it's known as Joe's, of course, although the owner's name is Horace, and the red and cream paint over the windows says Regent Refreshment Rooms or something like that. It has steamy windows with showcards and stickers for cigarettes and soft drinks, dirty net curtains like a funeral parlour and usually an old ginger moggie, too lazy to take a swipe at the flies. Inside, a counter with tea and coffee urns like something off of Stephenson's Rocket, dodgy lightweight chairs and tables of the sort that they break in saloon-bar brawls in cowboy films, and a jukebox so modern that it looks out of date already.' Aficionados of the early sixties will wrest even more pleasure from the opening movie sequence, filmed on Soho locations, as callow teenager Alan Crabbe (Michael Crawford) goes up west in search of love - all he finds is Pamela Green (star of the British sex film Naked as Nature Intended.) Returning to Joe's Caf , Alan's love life seems to be taking a more exciting turn when man-eating waitress Eileen (Nyree Dawn Porter) inexplicably agrees to go out with him. Their first date is at the groovy Floride Club, but as soon as Eileen spots David Hemmings and his hot jiving friend Michael Craze we know that Alan isn't going to have as much excitement as he might have hoped... Efficient direction by veteran Roy Ward Baker, a jazzy score by Philip Green and some flavoursome London locations make for an entertaining look at teenage life after rock and roll, but before the Beatles. The rather bleak, desperate tone adds a little more depth than is found in most similar films of the period. Watch out for Mike Leigh: easily recognizable as a leather-jacketed gang member helping to trash Joe's Caf. Leigh has mentioned the film as a significant influence on his directorial career. He was so turned off by conventional film making that he determined to do things differently when he got the chance himself." (Richard Gray)

Sparrows Can't Sing [Dir: Joan Littlewood, 1963] NEW
"A 'lusty, brutally playful' Cockney sailor named Charlie Gooding (James Booth) comes home after a long voyage to find his home torn down and his 'warm blonde doll of a wife' vanished. He goes to stay at his mother's East End house while trying to find out what has happened. Everybody who knows Charlie is sure he'll go ballistic when he finds out the truth. Not even his own family will tell him that Maggie Gooding (Barbara Windsor) has shacked up with a bus driver named Bert (George Sewell). And she has a new baby of uncertain paternity. After a day of near misses, the two men meet at a neighborhood pub at night... Buzzing about the principal pair is a chorus of relatives, friendly local tarts, pub friends, Jewish bakers, and a bird-breeding lodger.Director Joan Littlewood who founded the London Theatre Workshop (and helped birth the rumpled works of, among others, Brendan Behan and Shelagh Delaney) obviously adores Cockney subculture and resents soulless modernism. Littlewood is not in love with poverty, but she knows that the language, customs, entertainments of English workers had texture and assurance; and she sees them being dissipated by the very benefits of material progress, by commercialized culture, by spreading 'middle-classism'. Underneath the headlong frivolity, Littlewood is intent on showing the vitality, the communal richness of true working-class life. Something valuable is going, along with all that was inhuman, vicious, degrading..." (Diana Blackwell, James

Un Air de Famille [Dir: Cedric Klapisch 1996]
A French film comedy: "based on a stage play, we seldom leave the film's main location, a drab cafe, and the script is full of talk. But it is thankfully very entertaining talk, emanating as it does from a family whose simmering rivalries come to the boil during a birthday party." The cafe in question is a marvellous example of a parochial French town establishment - but it looks the very model of a classic London interior circa 1967! Counter, tables and chairs to kill for...and lots of them. Formica heaven meets leatherette luxuria in the captivating French countryside. Incroyable!




Flame in the Streets [Dir: Roy Ward Baker 1961] NEW
"Domestic difficulties develop in a working-class family when their daughter falls in love with a Jamaican... Made in the wake of the 1959 Notting Hill riots, Flame in the Streets is a tense examination of racial prejudice... Roy Ward Baker makes no allowances for liberal sensibilities and pulls few punches in delivering what he himself termed "a harsh picture"... Peter Lincoln (Johnny Sekka) and Gabriel Gomez (Cameron) are driven by forces quite different from those that drive Kathie and her family, although this is not necessarily due to their cultural difference. Within the integrity of both black characters there is a sense of longing for something other, something as distant as it is difficult to express, and therefore never quite articulated."

Mix Me A Person [Dir: Leslie Norman 1962]
Directed by Barry - Bazza - Norman's dad, this arthritic British suspenser sees a very young Adam Faith snarled up in a Dixon-of-Dock-Green non-plot spectacularly lacking in any cinematic quality whatsoever! Donald Sinden plays a lawyer gnashing numerous pieces of furniture and the whole thing has an air of useless English cinema of a style only since captured by the lottery-funded Brit-slop movies of the last five years. What the movie IS good for are various muted John Barry themes [credited as 'Music Arranger'] and several 'beat-boy in a basement' caff scenes. These appear to take place in a dive somewhere near Battersea power station in a wanna-be soho milk bar decked out in Chris Barber posters. Er, nice. The general decor is fag-end jazzer goes to Mexico [sounds like a Wallpaper* feature!!!] - and caff hipsters will not want to miss Faith's wretched lip-synch performance of 'La Bamba'. This sees all the other crazy jazz-nicks in the dive toe-tapping in a manner redolent of some boho rest-home voomed up with jazz-baccy and cappuccino suppositories. For sheer, bowel grinding embarrassment this takes some beating. Though, it must be said, vast sections of the evergreen 'Absolute Beginners' are almost as beguiling. Connoisseurs of random misplaced dance outbursts in forgotten British cinema owe Leslie Norman a grand debt of gratitude here. A good example too of how crap TV plot devices tried to upgrade to the big screen using contemporary youth culture. Thank God British cinema never tried exploiting THAT hoary old cinematic chestnut again...Remember, beat boys & girls - at the time it would commonly have been accepted that if God didn't destroy trad-jazz he owed Sodom & Gomorrah an apology! Sobering.

Afternoon of a Nymph [Dir: Philip Saville 1962] NEW
"Unusually sharp exposé of the sleazy underbelly of the entertainment industry, where would-be starlets are forced to prostitute themselves for the slim chance of a minor role. Elaine is an anxious, naïve young actress, with a fragile sense of self. To further her career, she is forced to endure the manipulations and predatory advances of a string of men... Although it lacks the cynical bite of, say, Alexander Mackendrick's The Sweet Smell of Success, Muller's script convincingly evokes the sordid shallows of showbiz. As Elaine, Janet Munro is a little too wide-eyed, but Peter Butterworth, Patrick Holt and Aubrey Morris make a suitably gruesome bunch of sharks, preying on the desperation of green young women whose ambitions far outweigh their talent." (Screenonline)

The Sorcerers [Dir: Michael Reeves 1967]
Wonderfully creaky, down at heel shocker featuring Boris Karloff on the periphery of Swinging London taking mind-altering practices to a whole new level. Alongisde many moribund locations the film features an extended sequence in a great Wimpy bar: chrome and leatherette stools, Formica tables, lights fittings...two tone drab wall decor... Quixotic.

The Golden Disc [Dir: Don Sharp 1958]
Earthy, cynical tale of nemesis and hubris among the flotsam and jetsam of tin pan alley. The story revolves around the 'Lucky Charm' coffee bar [so-called because the name, er, 'sounds gay']. Regarded as even better than 'Espresso Bongo' in it Soho location work and evocation of a Soho pulsing with music business deals, it features teen star Terry Dene - an obviously unhinged but magnetic presence . Nil budget but features scenes of kids building and espresso bar...raw bleak and very John Deakin... "Filmed at [the soon to close] Walton Studios, Walton on Thames, The Golden Disc includes some skiffle, some rock n' roll, some cool jazz, ballads and even a trumpet solo. Notable musical numbers include: 'Dynamo' by Tommy Connor and Terry Kennedy Group [an Afro-Caribbean Skiffle group]; 'C'min and be Loved' by Terry Dene; 'The In-between Age' [by Ray Mack, Philip Green]; 'Candy Floss' and 'Lower Deck' Phil Seamon Jazz Group [an all to brief 'Birth of the Cool' type piece from a British jazz combo]; and a Nick Cave-ish murder ballad 'Johnny O' by Nancy Whiskey."

The Punch & Judy Man [Dir: Jeremy Summers 1962]
Tony Hancock plays seaside Punch and Judy Man Wally Pinner who lives over a souvenir shop. A tragi-comedy of snobbery and decay set in Bognor Regis. By turns darkly depressing and breezily comic the extended almost silent scene in an Ice Cream Bar lashed with torrential rain has become legendary. Tormented.

The Rebel [Dir: Robert Day 1960]
Hancock moves to Paris where his art is acclaimed by bogus intellectuals. Some pretentious coffee bar scenes are included for local colour and action. The film was premiered at the Beirut Film Festival! Nostalgic.

if... [Dir: Lindsay Anderson 1968]
English public school rebels turn on the archaic customs, and authoritarian rule of their elders - a microcosm for the whole of English society, dontcha know! Weird and wild scenes in a transport cafe - The Packhurst - with a minimalist Lyons interior and Malcom McDowell undertaking an primitavistic rite with a Nigella Lawson lookalike round the juke box. Revolutionary.




Poor Cow [Dir: Ken Loach 1967]
Sordid South London slice-of-lifer as poor cow Carol White gets into a hopeless love tangle with Terence Stamp and sits in a cafe facing an ABC Cinema. Odd Donovan soundtrack and moody shots in a cafe on Fulham Road at it's junction with North End Rd. [reckoned to be on the corner of Pulton Place SW6] Searing.

Bedazzled [Dir: Stanley Donen 1967]
Faustian update with Dudley Moore as a miserable and shy short order cafe cook in a Wimpy [alluded to in the film as defacing blight on the face of Britain] who attempts suicide. The place where the Devil and Stanley go for ice-creams was Frobisher & Gleason in a cul-de-sac off Abbey Road N.W.8. The Wimpy shots look similar to scenes in The Sorcerers. Heavenly.

The London Nobody Knows [Dir: Norman Cohen 1967]
"the gritty historic fabric that was London in the sixties... facets of London life long since forgotten: street markets and their entertainers, residential slums... the toughness of what it was to be homeless ... [Commentator] James Mason makes a valid comment on the new buildings sprouting in and around London: the demolition of old buildings is something that should not be mourned as the same fate awaits the new buildings in years to come." Mondo Cane for Cockneys!

Never Let Go [Dir: John Guillermin 1960] NEW 
"A decent working man is forced to stand up against the brutal injustices of the English underworld - even if it costs him his job and his family... This near-demented melodrama revolves around two desperate obsessives colliding in a bizarre feud. The film follows a principled cosmetic salesman, played by Richard Todd, whose life is turned upside-down when his Ford Anglia is nicked by tearaway teddy boy Adam Faith. Todd's nemesis is Peter Sellers, playing a spiv fronting a garage scam (Sellers' baddy at one point stamps a terrapin to death!) Sellers is also sugar daddy to 'teenage tartlet' and Poor Cow star Carol White. Hubba hubba! There's a delightful, sleazy early John Barry jazz score (the main theme seems only to have been released as a 7" release on UK Columbia No. DB4480; an additional theme, Big Fella, was on DB 4446 b/w Beat For Beatniks) and there's mucho local colour in the caffs and gaffs of criminal London circa 1960. It ends with a massive slugfest - see poster left. Regarded as heavy fare for the time, the flic was slapped with an X rating certificate in 1960. Fair drives along."

The Intelligence Men [Dir: Robert Asher 1965] NEW
Espionage spoof featuring humble coffee shop manager [Eric Morecambe] forced into the secret world of spies in Swinging London. Ernie Sage [Wise], a clerical employee within MI5 meets Spanish café owner Eric Morecambe. Eric inadvertently reveals he has by chance learnt of criminal organisation Schlecht meeting at the Cosmopolitan Hotel when he is mistaken as an agent, MI5 sees the opportunity to send him undercover doubling as Major Cavendish. Their task is to protect the Ballerina Madam Petrovna, the idol of the Russian people. Her life is in the hands of two of the world's most incompetent spies during her performance of Swan Lake at Covent Garden. Brings you sunshine.

Mojo [Dir: Jez Butterworth 1998]
Mamet-lite meets Pinter-decaf in the British criminal hinterlands of 50s Soho. This risible UK movie has all the scope of a Play for Today but none of the character. Other than a fearsome appearance by the great H. Pinter himself as a jaba-the-hut-alike gangster the only reason to see this is the interior shots of the lost Alfredo's caff on Islington Green. Blink and you'll miss it - but the first 5 minutes features several shots inside this temple of powder blue vitrolite and smeared chrome. Some other parts of the film use the Alfredo as a background too. The place deserved a better epitaph but at least you get something of the flavour. I can't believe it's Butterworth.

All or Nothing [Dir: Mike Leigh, 2002] NEW
Rancid estates, slum supermarkets, desperate spouses, wrecked lives, bitter tears, emotional sclerosisand a couple of shots of Welling's exceedingly pleasant 1930s Koffi Pot cafe.

B Monkey [Dir: Michael Radford, 1998] NEW
Romantic actioner about an unlikely affair between a soft-hearted English teacher and a master cat burglar, played with crazy-sexy aplomb by Asia Argento. Worth watching only for Argento's sustained Beatrice Dalle impersonation-clothed and unclothed-and interiors shot in the grand old Regent Milk Bar, Edgware Road.

Brief Encounter [Dir: David Lean, 1945] NEW
Weep and weep again! Especially for the scene where the stiff-lipped duo meet for afternoon tea in the ocean liner luxury of a Kardomah cafe.

The Criminal [Dir: Joseph Losey, 1960] NEW
Cracking hard boiled British heist movie about an underworld kingpin (played with meaty relish by Stanley Baker) sprung from prison to mastermind a racetrack scam. Features scenes in the upstairs of the 2Is coffee bar looking out onto Old Compton Street. The cafe is decked out in Cliff Richard posters, skiffle hoardings and coffee containers. Originally advertised as The Toughest Film Ever Made in Britain!

Secrets and Lies [Dir: Mike Leigh, 1996] NEW
An adopted middle-class black woman tracks down her biological mother-who turns out to be white and working class. The two leads meet up at a fine cafe packed with banquettes and these core scenes trace the effects of their reunion. (The film won the 1996 Palme D'Or at Cannes.)

Serious Charge [Dir: Terence Young, 1958] NEW
A searing mix of youth, delinquency, rock n' roll, coffee barsand Cliff Richard.

She Knows Y'Know [Dir: Montgomery Tully, 1961] NEW
A searing mix of youth, pregnancy, pop, coffee barsand Hylda Baker. In this "lively British sex farce", a coquettish daughter falls pregnant as her mother tries to protect the family's honour. The Monthly Film Bulletin dismissed it as having "a pop singer and a coffee bar thrown in to prove that the film's makers are bang up to date". What a swizz!

Also good for period atmosphere:

Dance With A Stranger, Mike Newell, 1984

The Entertainer, Tony Richardson, 1960

Frightened City, John Lemont, 1961

Hell Is A City, Val Guest, 1959

A Kind of Loving, John Schlesinger, 1962

The Krays, Peter Medak, 1990

Look Back In Anger, Tony Richardson, 1959

Some People, Clive Donner, 1962

Spider, David Cronenberg, 2001

The Tommy Steele Story, Gerard Bryant, 1957

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