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.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

British '60s dramas: The L-shaped room in W11

A new discovery: WEST 11 one of those forgotten British black and white films of the early '60s, this one intrigued me as it has a great cast of the time, so thanks to Jerry for unearthing it .... it is by Michael Winner, from the time he was making interesting little British films (THE SYSTEM, THE JOKERS, I'LL NEVER FORGET WHATS'IS NAME - definitely a 1967 one to revisit - see David Hemmings, Oliver Reed labels) - like Ken Russell, Winner is a true maverick of British cinema before all those vigilante and dreadful later films ... this one is more downbeat than the lurid cover suggests!

Di Dors with Eric Portman
Here we are back in that grubby world of gloomy bedsits and gas meters, run down boarding houses, coffee bars and jazz clubs in Notting Hill Gate, that area of west London - hence its postcode title: WEST 11. This area is now ironically one of the most expensive in London.  This is a perfect early 60s London movie (along with A PLACE TO GO, THE LEATHER BOYS, THE L-SHAPED ROOM, THE WORLD TEN TIMES OVER, VICTIM, DARLING, BITTER HARVEST, THE KNACK, THE PLEASURE GIRLS and the BBC series TAKE THREE GIRLS - all at London label - others like A KIND OF LOVING, BILLY LIAR or A TASTE OF HONEY are Northern based) with great casting: Alfred Lynch in his mac is our rootless drifter who leaves his boring job, gets thrown out of his bedsit by landlady Freda Jackson, Kathleen Harrison is his whining mum, a good old working-class type; Eric Portman is the seedy toff who involves Alfred in a murder plot to kill his rich aunt, then there is old Finlay Currie as the lonely odd old man next door, and still looking very glamorous Diana Dors, rather out of place among these Notting Hill drifters, but gamely playing along - she has several scenes but is not really essential to the plot. Then there is young punk David Hemmings (not even listed in the credits) who is hassling dear old Finlay - 3 years later he was the star of BLOW-UP! Young Francesca Annis also does the twist with Alfie.
Young Hemmings with Finlay Currie

Lynch (1931-2003) had a curious career: a lot of theatre and television and some movie parts in the early 60s: starring here, and with Dirk Bogarde in that POW drama THE PASSWORD IS COURAGE, and with young Sean Connery in ON THE FIDDLE, and a bit part with Ava Gardner in 55 DAYS AT PEKING and in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW. (like Eric Portman here he was also gay, as per his IMDB resume).

Francesca twists with Alfred
Winner had wanted the young Julie Christie for his female lead but had to settle for Kathleen Breck .... the murder plot gets underway but our hero is unable to go through with it, but the victim dies accidentally falling down the stairs, as Alfie is carried away by the police at the downbeat ending, he is not really guilty but ... it shows the alienation of big city life and those restless people in the inner city as the new decade dawned as Britain recovered from its post - war depression, before the '60s exploded into music and colour - as per my next post! Extensive location shooting too, like Tom Courtenay in the same streets in the later OTLEY in '68, James Fox in PERFORMANCE and the later glossier Notting Hill of, er, NOTTING HILL. I knew that area well in the mid '60s.

Jane, a young French woman, pregnant and unmarried, takes a room in a seedy London boarding house, which is inhabited by an assortment of misfits. She considers getting an abortion, but is unhappy with this solution. She falls into a relationship with Toby, a struggling young writer who lives on the first floor. Eventually she comes to like her odd room, and makes friends with all the strange people in the house. But she still faces two problems: what to do with her baby, and what to do with Toby. 

WEST 11 is a perfect double bill with THE L-SHAPED ROOM , one 1962 drama I had missed until now. This is another solid Bryan Forbes film, about a French girl also moving into Notting Hill/Bayswaster bedsit land. She rents the L-shaped room in a very decrepit looking house run by Avis Bunnage, type cast again here as the landlady (my post on the "Hollywood UK" series (TV label) shows the house now, or 20 years ago). What does not quite work for me here is that the heroine is played by Leslie Caron, after her Hollywood era in the '50s, so she seems not only too old but rather out of place here, by the end though she is totally convincing in a very multi-faceted performance. Her French girl is pregnant and has a very good scene with suave doctor Emlyn Williams. Fellow boarders in the house include Tom Bell, one of those 'angry young men' and black and gay Brock Peters. CORONATION STREET's Elsie  Tanner (Pat Phoenix) is brassy blonde here as one of the working girls in the basement, and old time star Cicely Courtneidge is Mavis, an old time music hall entertainer, with a secret of her own ... Caron gets to know these lonely people and involved in their dramas as she and Tom Bell embark on a tentantive romance. The ending is quite bittersweet, as she calls to collect her case from the new girl (Nanette Newman of course, Mrs Forbes) in the L-shaped room.  

Forbes, like Winner and Russell, is another British maverick, an ex-actor and writer who had some big successes directing this and films like WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND, KING RAT, SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON, THE WHISPERERS, MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT etc) - but somehow it was the Schlesingers and Loseys who seemed to get all the artistic kudos - like Schlesinger though being an actor himself Forbes is great with actors and draws the best from them. We particularly like his 1974 original THE STEPFORD WIVES. (Diane Clare, the other debutante in Minnelli's THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE in 1958 appears near the end of L-SHAPED ROOM as a nurse to deliver 2 lines to Bell, such are the vagaries of the actor's life...).

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