Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The Boys (1962, Sidney J. Furie, UK: Galaworldfilm Productions)

US one sheet poster

The boys outside a Jacey cinema in Picadilly
One of the first distributors I began researching for my PhD was Kenneth Rive, who for a number of years ran a company called Gala. He became known as a specialist in French New Wave and European art house cinema during the 1950s and 1960s, but every so often he also produced films under the Galaworldfilm Productions banner. I have finally caught up with possibly one of his best, The Boys from 1962.

(L - R) Rita Webb, Betty Marsden, Patrick Magee, David Lodge

The Boys begins in a court room with very little exposition. We are thrown into a court case as four teenage boys are in the dock on a charge of murder; the stabbing to death of a garage nightwatchman during a bungled robbery. Various witnesses for the prosecution give evidence as to the yobbish, loutish behaviour these boys indulged in around the west end of London on the night in question, whilst their concerned parents look on in horror. This is 1962 after all, when the penalty for a murder conviction was still death.

What is particularly enjoyable about this film is the way in which it deconstructs the narrative, offering a commentary on the unreliable nature of storytelling. Each of these witnesses offers circumstantial evidence that on the surface points to the guilt of these four boys, but it based purely on assumptions that these boys are up to no good, purely because they look like teddy-boys and one of them carries a flick-knife. Even the audience believes they must be guilty, before we hear testimony from each boy in turn, who fills out the details and gives a wider context for each of the stories told by these so-called eye witnesses. Yes, they may have seemed like louts, but really they were just teenage boys out for a good time. Suddenly you begin to believe they must be innocent, and that this film is a critique of the attitudes adults have towards a youth culture they mistrust and don't understand. The drama, with the present taking place in the courtroom and the flashbacks taking us to the night in question, really creates tension and never lets on which way the verdict will go right until the last minute. Like all good courtroom dramas, you feel invested in the outcome. Sidney J. Furie does not pass judgment on these young boys, and creates realistic, likeable characters who are as much the victims of poverty and circumstance as the trouble-makers of a Charles Dickens novel.

One thing that really makes this film stand out is its tremendous cast. Familiar faces follow each other onto the witness stand, such as Roy Kinnear and Wilfrid Brambell, and Felix Aylmer, recently seen as a predatory paedophile in Hammer's Never Take Sweets From a Stranger (1960, Cyril Frankel, UK), is now on the right side of the law as the judge, listening to questioning from both Richard Todd and Robert Morley. One of the boys, Stan Coulter, is played by that irascible raconteur Dudley Sutton, in one of his very first starring roles, and he is brilliant. He goes from menacing thug to wide-eyed innocent, remaining completely believable the whole time. Popular singer and heart-throb Jess Conrad plays one of his friends. 

Richard Todd for the prosecution on the left, Robert Morley defending on the right

My desire to watch this film was prompted by an interview I conducted with Aisha Ahmed (now Wills) last summer for a book chapter I was writing on Jacey cinemas. As a teenager in Birmingham she started working for the chain at their offices there before being selected to become the glamorous face of the company. As "Miss Jacey" she was required to attend glittering premieres in London, attend public events and even model for advertising materials. In 1961 she was encouraged to get into the film industry and was offered a small uncredited part in The Boys, as a kiosk girl. Being a Kenneth Rive production, her scene was shot in the Jacey on Piccadilly, which was currently screening the Italian neo-realist drama Adue e le compagne (1960, Antonio Pietrangeli, Italy: Zebra Film), which Rive had retitled Hungry for Love. Also on offer was the creaky striptease spectacular Femmes de Paris (1953, Jean Boyer, France: Hoche Productions), and the advertising for both can be clearly seen in the film.

The boys are causing trouble outside the Jacey

Aisha "Miss Jacey" Ahmed in her cameo role

Her film career was stymied when she refused to appear in horror films, and she continued to work for the Jacey company for the remainder of the 1960s. She kindly sent me a photo taken during the shooting of her scenes.

Aisha discussing her scene between takes with Sidney J. Furie whilst operator Chick Waterson readies the camera. Photo courtesy of Aisha Wills. 

 The Boys is a great example of Britain in transition. This is a pre-Beatles, pre-sexual revolution 1960s where boys still wear smart suits and go to dance halls for a good time. Jess Conrad may have been a pop star, but his style was soon going to become very unfashionable indeed. The location photography around London reveals bomb sites and Victorian tenements alongside new high-rise blocks under construction (in fact one of the boys works as an apprentice carpenter on one such block). With Furie having apparently told the boys to "rip up the script," their scenes have a freshness and improvised quality which helps accentuate the contrast between their poor working-class lives and the more stilted, formal atmosphere of the court room. These boys could have easily stepped out of a John Osborne play, or one of the "Angry Young Men" films that were still in production during this period. Perhaps the court room nature of the film, or the fact that Sidney J. Furie was not considered part of that British New Wave, means that The Boys is neglected when talking about depictions of youth in British cinema of the early 1960s. It is certainly as much of a 'message' picture as one of Tony Richardson's or Lindsay Anderson's, and these boys feel like Karel Reisz found them when shooting his Free Cinema documentary We Are the Lambeth Boys (1959, UK: Graphic Films). Like that film, here Furie, with Stuart Douglass' script, is challenging audience perceptions and asking for tolerance and understanding towards young people.

Sadly, for aspect ratio fans, the version of The Boys currently available from Talking Pictures TV and Renown DVD has been cropped from it's widescreen in order to fill 16:9 TVs. This is a pity as the photography is excellent, and there are times when information is missing from the edge of the frame because they cut it off, including a crucial final shot in the court room. In these times of restoration and preservation of lost and long-missing films, this is particularly disappointing. Despite this it is still well worth tracking down and deciding for yourself whether these boys did it, or if they are just victims of circumstance.



2 comments:

  1. How interesting, I really enjoyed reading this Adrian. Thank you and Aisha so much for sending me this link.

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