Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

London in the movies ...


POOL OF LONDON - an Ealing Michael Balcon production from 1951. Let's start with a quartet from that reliable duo producer Michael Relph and director Basil Dearden. POOL OF LONDON's backdrop is the stark, bomb-site ridden City of London, centred round the old docks by Tower Bridge, fascinating to see how as all this area has been pulled down and re-developed. In fact the ship our heroes are on must be moored where City Hall is now. The film is full of faces of the time and those two leads Bonar Colleano and Earl Cameron are so redolent of the early 50s. Colleano was in several British films (including THE WAY TO THE STARS in '44, and died in a car crash in '58 (as did Dearden in '71); Cameron may be the first black actor regularly employed in British cinema and is still working now, he is in INCEPTION). Colleano was actually married to Susan Shaw, who is paired with Cameron here - rather odd seeing them together now, as there couldn't have been many coloured (as they are referred to here) men in London in the early '50s, as it was not until the late '50s that blacks were recruited from Trinidad and Jamaica to move to England, causing those race riots of the time, as explored in films like SAPPHIRE and FLAME IN THE STREETS. Plot-wise this is a neat thriller showing the strict customs control of the time as the sailors try to smuggle nylons and cigarettes for their lady friends. Colleano dabbles in smuggling but gets in over his head when asked to take some hot diamonds on board the ship and deliver them to Rotterdam. The robbery is nicely plotted featuring Max Adrian (whom I knew from his later Ken Russell films) as a run-down variety trapeze artist, who unfortunately kills the night-watchman at the office where the diamonds are. The usually posh Moira Lister is fun as the good time girl who persuades Bonar to keep the diamonds which he gives to Cameron to take on board the ship for him as it all unravels. An entertaining caper then, capturing the bombed-out City of London before all that redevelopment began, with trams and run-down variety theatres. Thank goodness it was all going to change...

1954 saw Gerard Philipe as that romantic Frenchman on the loose in London in KNAVE OF HEARTS (Monsieur Ripois), romancing the likes of lovely Joan Greenwood - Rene Clement shot exteriors on the streets of London with (mostly) hidden cameras, 5 years before the New Wave! It shows a nicely atmospheric London of the time, including that nice streetwalker who takes our suddenly homeless hero home!

SAPPHIRE. Hardly ever seen now, this is a vivid childhood memory. Basil Dearden’s 1959 thriller is very colourful as it depicts the casual racism of late ‘50s Britain and the racial tensions of the time, with the arrival of those immigrants from Jamaica and Trinidad who were encouraged to move to England and better themselves, but were usually working on buses and trains. Sapphire is the girl found murdered on Hampstead Heath as detectives Nigel Patrick (dependable as ever) and Michael Craig look for clues. Yvonne Mitchell scores as the sister of Sapphire’s boyfriend, as it is revealed that the murdered girl was a half-caste who was passing as white, as her brother Earl Cameron makes obvious. As in Dearden’s following VICTIM, attitudes are revealed among the suspects and its intriguingly worked out. A vivid scene set in a nightclub shows Craig’s reaction while watching a blond girl absorbed in the music as the owner tells the police that the girls passing for white always give themselves away when they hear that funky beat…. FLAME IN THE STREETS in 1961 is another set in this era as John Mills’ daughter (Sylvia Syms again) wants to marry an ordinary black man (not a Sidney Poitier superhero, as in Kramer's 1967 film) thus testing his liberal attitudes, while his wife, splendid Brenda de Banzie, is violently opposed to the union. This is also by Ted Willis. We see Hampstead Heath of the time and those various London locations like Notting Hill.

VICTIM - Dearden's 1961 follow-up is very well known now and gets re-discovered all the time, and again the thriller format is used to demonstrate attitudes to homosexuality while it was still illegal (until 1967) so blackmailers had a field day. Dirk Bogarde is the barrister who decides to unmask them, after the boy he was seeing (Peter McEnery) kills himself after being blackmailed. Sylvia Syms is the not very understanding wife, Dennis Price is amusing as one of those blackmailed, and we get to see the regulars of that famous gay bar The Salisbury in St Martin's Lane. London theatreland is also on view with shots of the Palace (showing 'Flower Drum Song') and the St Martins Lane theatre (where 'Oliver' is playing) and that bookshop must be in Cecil Court off Charing Cross Road. A quaint (now) but still richly rewarding British noir, as well as a historically significant one as apparantly it helped to change the law de-criminalising homosexuality in the U.K.

THE LEATHER BOYS in 1964 features the bikers seen around London and the North Circular Road, Rita Tushingham is a shrewish wife here, driving her husband into the arms of those leather bikers.

'50s London is on view in popular movies showing the upper classes as in INDISCREET or THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE. We have Gary Cooper in the Waterloo Station of 50 years ago in THE WRECK OF THE MARY DEARE, and Sophia Loren on the London Bridge skyline of 1960 in THE MILLIONAIRESS - its totally different now! More posh London featured in I COULD GO ON SINGING with its Harley Street surgeries and the London Palladium where Judy sings, and of course Bogarde again in Losey's THE SERVANT and that fabulous house in Royal Walk, off the Kings Road in Chelsea.

A PLACE TO GO - Kitchen sink movies must have come to a screaming halt with this Dearden movie from 1963 which was lost for decades and one can see why now that it is available again. It plays like a parody of kitchen sink dramas as we focus on Bethnal Green and working class families being moved to those enticing new high rise blocks. It is a rather patronising look at working class life with pub singalongs, dog tracks and the like. There is of course a dissatisfied young man - the 5-minute pop star Mike Sarne, surely the most uncharismatic leading man ever, his spikey waif girlfriend - who else but Rita Tushingham? and his salt of the earth working class parents - send for reliables Doris Hare and Bernard Lee. There is of course a raid on the local cigarette factory that goes wrong, and at the end those slum houses are being demolished at they move to the tower blocks.

And of course in 1964's GIRL WITH GREEN EYES, Irish Rita Tushingham (left) takes the ferry to London and works at the WH Smith shop just oppostite the Notting Hill Classic Cinema, one of my old haunts - and I took the ferry that same year, arriving on 11th April 1964!
while in 1966, another Irish girl Sarah Miles mopes in her London bedsitter (with its topical view of the new Post Office Tower, right) in I WAS HAPPY HERE (also written by Edna O'Brien and directed by Desmond Davis) while pining for her lost love back in County Clare in Ireland, where she runs to follwed by her husband. It too shows a very mid-60s London, before the hip people took over.

London got more colorful and entertaining as the '60s progressed: NOTHING BUT THE BEST with Alan Bates on the make, Rita again in Lester's THE KNACK with Michael Crawford, Michael Winner's romps THE JOKERS and I'LL NEVER FORGET WHATSHISNAME (Oliver Reed, Carol White, Marianne Faithfull etc). THE '60s movie of course was BLOW-UP as Antonioni re-imagined the city and the parks [Maryon Park in Woolwich] and the studios [in Notting Hill Gate], just as Polanski gave us a different view of Kensington in REPULSION, and Polish director Skolimowski showed us another East End in DEEP END, while Darling Julie Christie and her gay pal photographer Roland Curram (stealing a march on Hemmings in BLOW-UP the next year) go shoplifting at Harrods, or maybe Fortnum & Masons, in DARLING in 1965 - its Harrods where Anne Bancroft has that breakdown in THE PUMPKIN EATER in 1964, while Lynn, Alan and Charlotte have fun in GEORGY GIRL in 1966, when David Warner's MORGAN was dressing as that gorilla .... as BLOW-UP and MODESTY BLAISE showed that glamorous 60s London, away from the grubby black and white bedsits ...

SMASHING TIME was a marvellous slapstick romp in 1967, another essential Swinging Lodon comedy, as Northern girls Rita Tushingham (it was certainly her decade) and Lynn Redgrave arrive at the old St Pancras Station, to find out where it's at. Soon they discover Anna Quayle's "Too Much" boutique, and that custard pie shop and of course the Post Office Tower.

OTLEY in 1968, one of those Swinging 60s spy spoofs has a hapless Tom Courtenay mistaken for a spy. Romy Schneider pops in and out as a mysterious lady – it was fun seeing it again recently and those 60s locations like Notting Hill and Portobello that I knew well at the time. There is also a good Antonioni joke at an intellectual party. Amusing support from the likes of Alan Badel, Leonard Rossiter and James Villiers. Above: a tense comedy shoot-out at Notting Hill Gate underground station.
Badel was also that very suave Arab villain in Donen's ARABESQUE a feast of mid-60s London locations as Greg Peck and Sophia Loren try to crack a code in time. Its a dazzling entertainment just as good as Donen's CHARADE.

Late '60s London features in Roeg & Cammell's PERFORMANCE in Notting Hill and Mike Sarne crops up again with JOANNA, [he also went on to direct Fox's MYRA BRECKINRDIGE, amusing for some...]. UP THE JUNCTION in '68 is fascinating now to see the open spaces around Victoria Station and Chelsea Bridge - which is all high-rise apartments now.
Then came SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY in 1971, Schlesinger’s enduring film about a particular slice of London society, the intelligentsia and how they spend their Sundays, as devised by writer Penelope Gilliatt, is perhaps THE London movie of the '70s (as BLOW-UP was THE '60s London movie). Finch excels himself as Dr Daniel Hirsch, the Jewish doctor in love with young artist Murray Head, as is Glenda Jackson in one of her most sympathetic roles as the career woman realising her romance is not going anywhere. Their backgrounds are carefully shown while we do not learn much about the young artist – in fact the puzzle is why would two such well rounded people bother with someone so shallow. Finch has a great scene at the all-night chemist in Piccadilly watching the addicts waiting for their fixes after meeting a previous pickup of his, Jon Finch, while Glenda grimaces as she drinks instant coffee made from the hot water tap and grinds cigarette ash into the carpet as she is left with the toucan. Finch who replaced Ian Bannen in the role should really have won every award going [as should have Bogarde the previous year for DEATH IN VENICE] if only for that speech to the camera at the end, but it was Gene Hackman’s year. IMDB has quite a lot on its making and that famous gay kiss in its material about the film. Like THE GO-BETWEEN it was one of the year's must-sees.

We began with POOL OF LONDON, lets end with 1947's Ealing drama IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY, now revived by the BFI, with its glum view of Eastenders in Bethal Green on a wet Sunday in those drab late-'40s ... 1950's DANCE HALL is another fascinating social document now with its 4 factory girls (including a young Petula Clark and Diana Dors) living for their Saturday night dance, its full of faces of the time including Kay Kendall, Gladys Henson, Natasha Parry and Jane Hylton and of course Sydney Tafler et al ...
The modern London of now is of course well-caught in a wide variety of films like 28 DAYS LATER and DIRTY PRETTY THINGS. Perhaps Paris and Rome soon ?
A recent discover too is Michael Winner's WEST 11 from '63 set, like Bryan Forbes' '62 THE L-SHAPED ROOM among the bedsitter people of Notting Hill Gate in the early '60s - an amusing curiosity now, with Diana Dors, Alfred Lynch and the young David Hemmings - as a young hood trying to terrorise dear old Finlay Currie! See also London label for later entries like BITTER HARVEST, and THE WORLD TEN TIMES OVER ... showing the seedy side of Soho in those black and white early 60s ... and full reports on IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY and WEST 11, L-SHAPED ROOM, DEEP END, and the revived WOMAN IN A DRESSING GOWN, Preminger's BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING, Cronenberg's EASTERN PROMISES, John Ford's 1958 GIDEON OF SCOTLAND YARD another great 'London in the 50s' movie, etc.
A terrific book too is MOVIE LONDON, exploring the city film by film, showing the locatations used for those seminal London films like BLOW-UP, UP THE JUNCTION, I'LL NEVER FORGET WHATS'IS NAME etc. 


  1. I love those Blow Up photos.

  2. Thanks for entertaining me with your blog, I'm so boring... I'm in the middle of a travel in Argentina, and I'm waiting for the next fly, from Salta to BA. I've been waiting for 5 hours!! tired of waiting, but, your blog's very nice :) thanks for sharing