Friday, 30 November 2012

Violent Playground



'Violent Playground' was directed in 1958 by Basil Dearden. Much of it was filmed on location in Liverpool, at the time an untidy and hellish mix of building and bomb site, studded with huge social housing projects that, from today's perspective, seem less 'streets in the sky' than holding pens for the next generation of criminals, layabouts, dogsbodies and skivvies. 



Into this harsh and degrading environment comes the very great Stanley Baker, a hard bitten Detective who, inexplicably, is moved from investigating a series of arson attacks to Juvenile Liaison Officer. Baker isn't married, hates children and thinks that pretty much every situation can be dealt with by administering a 'wallop'. He doesn't see the point of helping anyone who isn't a law abiding citizen, let alone a snotty nosed brat, but, when a fellow officer points out that the most important arrest in an offender's life isn't the first one, but the second - because it means that he / she has now decided to become a criminal -he promises to give it a go.      

His first case is the Murphy twins, a boy and a girl who, at seven, know they are too young to be prosecuted and so spend their time bunking off school and shoplifting. They're quite charming in an annoying, rascally way, so he softens a bit, grabs their dirty hands and takes them back to their flat in a massive complex down by the docks to have a word with their Mum and Dad. Dad's away at sea, and Mum's run off with another bloke, so parental guidance is provided by older sister Kathy (Anne Heywood) and older brother Johnny (David McCallum): she's gorgeous; he's a dangerous hoodlum, so Baker decides to get to know the family a bit better. 


Baker and the Murphy twins approach the ramparts.

Not particularly violent, but almost certainly a Health & Safety nightmare.
 
An awkward moment.

Johnny heads up a gang of Teddy Boy-ish teenage delinquents. It's not a particularly impressive gang, as it contains a young Melvyn Hayes and an even younger Freddie Starr, but it's a gang, nonetheless, and barking out orders is the most work Johnny does these days, despite having the potential to become a first class athlete. Baker strongly suspects that the gang have something to do with the arson attacks, and this conviction is strengthened when he hears that, as a kid, Johnny raised the alarm about a major fire and was a local hero for a time. The shrewd Baker thinks that Johnny wants to relive his triumph, but in an evil way, and he's right - Johnny is pretty messed up, a ball of neurosis who only comes alive when he hears fire engine bells or the incessant animal beat of a hep rock and roll record.

Rock!

Get down!

A blur of intensity. Melvyn Hayes on the right.
There's a brilliant sequence when Baker is talking to Johnny and actually making progress until they pass a flat where the rest of the gang are dancing frenziedly to a Johnny Luck platter. Gripped by the music, Johnny falls into a strange reverie, his face and body twitching to the beat. Within seconds he is dancing too, wildly and uninhibitedly, and this becomes a dance of violence and threat - choreographed menace (sort of - it's rather camp). Baker's face is a picture, and reminds me of the moment my Dad first saw The Smiths on 'Top Of The Pops' - incomprehension, revulsion, contempt, fear.


 .    

Johnny eventually snaps, of course, and holds a classroom full of children to ransom with a German WW2 MP40 Sub Machine Gun. It's a strategic disaster, as the school is of the Modernist style and is open plan. Johnny ends up in the back of a Black Mariah, bound for whatever whitewashed, carbolic smelling institution is the closest. I hope it's fireproof. Baker cops off with the sister, and the twins will be saved from Johnny's fate by his firm, fatherly hand. 
   

"I'll shoot!"

"I told you I'd shoot!"
'Violent Playground' is tagged as a social realist film because of its on location filming and portrayal of the seamier side of inner city life, and its most convincing moments are in tableaux - the gang lounging around in the tower block playground throwing stones at a teddy bear tied to a post, for instance - or the shots of Baker stalking the streets. Somewhat overblown in dramatic terms, director Dearden nevertheless manages to keep a lid on the action, and some good performances stop it getting too silly. Nice to see Peter Cushing in a 'straight' role as well, and Baker is always extremely good value.

SOME NOTES ON STANLEY BAKER:



We've had some fun on this blog looking at his hairpieces, but I genuinely think Stanley Baker was probably the most exciting and interesting leading man working in British film in the post-war period up until the early sixties, but, because much of that particular period is unfashionable and has fallen out of public view, his talents are often overlooked.

Baker was able to be incredibly tough and tender at the same time - an undeniably hard and capable man who could be brought down by dangerous weaknesses like loyalty and love and honour. He was also a superlative villain - black eyed and hawk like in appearance, utterly ruthless and good in a scrap. He died, not even fifty, in 1976. He's one of my heroes, whatever he's got on his head.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Sir Stanley's Syrups

Stanley Baker's toupee in 'Eve' (d. Joseph Losey, 1962) is a fairly straightforward piece of kit that carries itself with dignity and discretion, only occasionally becoming noticeable in close up.

Honestly, Stanley, it looks great.

Stanley takes it hard.
Stan doesn't trust the bloody thing out at sea, however, so he jams on a hat for the water skiing sequence which, quite clearly, he's doing in person. Mind you, he was that sort of guy: tough, able, athletic, good at balancing on two bits of wood while being dragged across liquid at thirty miles an hour. He looks like he's enjoying himself, too.



The film itself is pretty serious drama about a Welsh novelist / fraud called Tyvian Jones who has hit the big time on the strength of a book written by his dead brother and is living it up in Venice on the stolen glory, not to mention the publishing royalties and film rights. When he meets Eve (Jeanne Moreau) he is sure that his charm and sexual prowess will make her putty in his hands - but Eve is only interested in money, luxury, perversity and cruelty, and refuses any notion of love or exclusivity, which drives him slowly out of his mind and dismantles his life one nut at a time.


Is it coming unstuck?

Nope, it's fine.
Towards the end, at his lowest ebb (his wife has killed herself because he can't keep away from Eve), Tyvian breaks into Eve's appartment and puts his hands around her throat as she sleeps. It's a very Stanley Baker moment - a hard but sentimental man acting out of desperate passion - and you're sure that he'll kill her and that will be that. Instead, she wakes up and, in an astonishing sequence, beats him with a riding crop before chucking him out into the street. It's a massive surprise and, for Baker fans, a little bit disturbing - this is a new Baker, a craven, cowardly pathetic man in a situation that he has absolutely no control over. Strong stuff, and a tough test for his wig which, I'm happy to report, gets ruffled but remains steadfastly in place.

He cowers.

He crawls.

He hits rock bottom.

Good work, Sir Stanley. Good work, Sir Stanley's Syrup.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Moon

The Moon has become seriously neglected in recent years. Hardly anyone writes songs about it these days, and nobody from Earth has bothered to visit since 1972, not even to move that bloody buggy. So come on, let's show some more respect for our oldest companion and closest friend. The Moon: it's the Mars we can trust. 







A random selection from Lynn Chadwick's charming 'Moon' series from 1965/66. No reason, I just like them.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Adventures of A Private Eye

   

‘Adventures Of A Private Eye’ is the second in Stanley Long’s ‘Confessions’ type trilogy of light hearted smutters, following up on the commercial success of ‘Adventures Of A Taxi Driver’ from the year before. As Dolly Dolly has already pointed out, it has the most fantastic cast, all wasted in pointless and underwritten roles.
Christopher Neil.

The star is Christopher Neil, a fresh faced hybrid of Hywel Bennett and Barry Evans. He’s personable enough, but he doesn’t have the charisma to carry the film and, in the distinguished company of the cream of British showbiz, he simply fades away completely. He also sings the theme song, a catchy but utterly forgettable number with a hint of glam and a dash of disco, and he makes quite a good job of it considering.
He plays the bumbling assistant to Jon Pertwee, a suave, womanising detective and international playboy. This bit is ridiculous really, as Pertwee is one of the least inconspicuous people there is. You could spot him a mile off. It’s also had to take Dr. Who as a shagger, but puts a slightly different perspective on what might have happened on those long nights in the TARDIS with Jo Grant and Sarah-Jane Smith. I’d always assumed cards, stories and, perhaps, a slide show. When Pertwee jets off somewhere exotic, Neil assumes the mantle and blunders into a case of blackmail and murder and all that sort of Agatha Christie nonsense, assuming that Agatha had just had a serious brain injury and had just sat through a couple of Benny Hill TV specials.

Pertwee's PA.

Dors.

Do you need a hand with those, Liz?

The best shot in the whole film.

The worst shot in the whole film.

I was hoping she'd beat him to death. No such luck. 

Cross dressing. That's always funny, isn't it? Isn't it?

As stated, there’s a cavalcade of guest stars, all acting as if they'd just started in the business. The performances are as broad as a Norfolk waterway, but nowhere near as attractive. Irene Handel, bless her, is saddled with a character called Miss Frigging, which is simply too much, I'm afraid. Harry H Corbett just drinks and laughs; Liz Frazer is neurotic and keeps clutching her ample bosom; poorly permed Angela Scoular wearily gets her kit off; Adrienne Posta does an interminable Liza Minelli impression ('I'm Lisa Moroni, with an I not an E, because that would make me an idiot' she trills, flashing a nipple as she does so). It's a right mess, a load of unfunny running about with an occasional sex scene thwarted by a husband or a policeman or John out of 'The Tomorrow People' (playing a gangster, for christ's sake).   


Lisa Moroni, Morone.

Yes, that is Milton Reid on the left. Poor Milton.

Dressed only in a towel on a bus with sliding doors - it sort of writes itself, doesn't it?

In the end, after ninety minutes of unrelated, make it up as you go along panto, it all ends in a big melee where most of the cast roll on the floor - a huge, unsexy chaotic gang bang. 


Oh, and cocky Jon Pertwee gets his cock cut off by a falling electric fan... 


Who's laughing now? That'll teach you to be rude to Dolly Dolly.

So, how did I feel about this film in the end? There's no real point in getting angry about what was, ultimately, a self inflicted wound, so, I suppose, mostly --



-- with a little bit of --


-- and I'm going to have to put myself through it all again for the last in the series, 'Adventures Of A Plumber's Mate'. Wish me luck.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Unexpected Competition Winners



We're nearly at the end of our special Roald Dahl Week, sadly, but it's something we've found hugely enjoyable and, we hope, you've liked too. Earlier this week, we asked for your 'unseen' Tales Of The Unexpected episodes and we've had some great entries, all of which which we'd like to share with you now.

To start with, a dark tale from Andrew Carlin.

A brightly lit shop front art gallery in a fashionably down at heel area of town. A braying, glinting group of hipsters drink tokaji and declaim on the exhibition of transgressive, sexualised art made by people known to them personally.  At the centre stands Helena (Honor Blackman), an artists' agent, attended to by gallery owner Tom (Peter Bowles, clean shaven, neckerchief). 

A rough type, high street denim, possibly drunk, possibly not English (Oliver Tobias) looks on through a window.  Helena spots him, whispers to Tom and then loudly bustles through the front door, returning with her new Guest.  The group artfully discuss the art, feeling like magicians in front of their monosyllabic audience.  Helena scolds them playfully before taking The Guest by the elbow through to a side room. Tom holds court in her absence.

There is a small, blue Robin Day chair in the centre of the side room.  An inflated, lifesize female doll rests on the chair, stiff legs tied to the front legs of the chair and its arms tied behind.  The doll is covered in a long, red, tight dress. A bowler hat lies to the side.  The dress is crudely cut away exposing seamed breasts and vinyl genitalia.  Helena circles the room, explaining the Kubrick references, the homage to the artifice of screen sexuality and the fetishisation of objectification.  The Guest looks on, slowly turning and ever watching as Helena takes balletic steps through the scene, following her words in motion.

Much later, the group make to leave the gallery.  They call for Helena. Tom shouts that he saw her leave with The Guest and flag down a cab. The group move off to the nearest late bar.  A flacid plastic foot and ankle flap, trapped in the door of a minicab some miles away.  Behind the glass of an art gallery in a fashionably down at heel area of town, a straining noise fights against the silence of a wine glass littered, abandoned exhibition.  In a side room Helena rests on a small blue Robin Day chair ...

The End.

Unexpected, I'm sure you'll agree. Now, Ivan Kirby has a chiller for you, entitled 'Vicious Tongue'...

Clive Swift plays a timid husband forever being humiliated by his venomous wife, Sheila Gish.  After she grandly belittles him at a dinner party, a sympathetic female friend (Penelope Wilton) urges Clive to leave Sheila "or that tongue of hers will be the death of you".  On the way back, they're involved in a car accident, the shock leaving Sheila unable to speak ever again.

Clive now lords it over her, becoming  ruder & nastier as she gets ever meeker & more submissive. Then one day after lunch he's rushed to hospital with food poisoning that proves fatal. A shot of a kitchen bin & calendar reveals the cause: a seriously out-of-date packet of lunch tongue...The End.

Phew. That was fucking unexpected. From the brilliant minds of Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman came this masterpiece:

International best selling crime novelist Anoushka Hempel is astonished when she receives the finished MS of the new novel she is still working on. It turns out there are secret loudspeakers in her fancy bedstead that have been feeding her plots to her while asleep installed by deranged fan (who lives next door) Bernard Cribbins. Cribbins intends to go public when Hempel's suave new editor (Peter Egan) persuades her to change the ending of the new book. An enraged Hempel kills Cribbins by pretending to seduce him and luring him to touch the now rewired and deadly bedstead. Hempel thinks she's in the clear - but then the novel's published with its original ending - which describes her murder of Cribbins and how she hid the body in a box of books on their way to be pulped!

Hempel slams shut the book - zoom out to reveal it's her one privilege -  in prison! The End.

Christ! We didn't see that one coming!


We mustn't forget Nick Dimmock, either, whose whole series ideas were so good they got their own post and inspired me to do something I hadn't done for twenty years: forge Anglia TV documents. 



So, who is the WINNER? Well, it took a minimum of discussion to decide that all four entries above were our favourite and best and were superb and worthy of victory so, HOORAY and congratulations, you're all in line for a special prize direct from our very own giver of gifts, Mr. Dolly Dolly. Please e-mail us your address details and we'll get something special in the post to you asap with our love and thanks for your contributions and support. 

Mounds and Circles
(Dolly Dolly, Fearlono, Glimmung and Unmann-Wittering)