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Violent Playground is directed by Basil Dearden and written by James Kennaway. It stars Stanley Baker, Anne Heywood, David McCallum and Peter Cushing. Music is by Phillip Green and cinematography by Reginald H. Wyer.
Detective Sergeant Jack Truman (Baker) is taken off an arsonist case to become a Juvenile Liason Officer. This brings him into contact with the Murphy family on the tough Liverpool estate of Gerard Gardens. As he fights to keep the young Murphy twins from a potential life of crime, his focus is seriously challenged when he starts to fall for the children's elder sister and guardian, Catherine (Heywood). More pressing, maybe? Is the presence of the brother, Johnny (McCallum), who is the leader of the local gang of Suede Heads.
Tough, gritty semi-documentary slice of British realism that features juve delinquency as its centre point. As Britain moved into the 50s, the Liverpool police force experimented with policemen who became Juvenile Liason Officers, their job was to stop young kiddies from moving into crime, a sort of nip it in the bud programme if you like. Violent Playground covers this experiment and links it in with a roguish elder relative, impoverishment, gang culture and a concurrent case of a pyromaniac on the loose. All of which is set to a backdrop of Rock "N" Roll music and an authentic run down Liverpool estate. It's tough in this part of Britain and grim period flavours are clinically brought to life by Dearden and his team.
Kennaway's screenplay is convincing in its literacy. It manages to not soft soap the problems inherent within the Murphy family (no parents, estate living, financial struggle et al), while many conversations strike a realistic chord, such as one that has police officers casually chat about the young kids breaking into coin operated gas metres, you see the travelling funfair is in town and thus this certain crime rises! Dirty faced kids are on the streets shoplifting or trying to pinch fruit from the stalls, so the cops are trying to stop the "second" crime in an area that is a breeding ground for crime, a step-up to a visit to the magistrate, and again Kennaway's pen lets us know that it's at aged 8 when the kids start to become at the mercy of the courts. It's all very informative and aware.
A number of scenes impact hard. As a fire rages, the latest work of the arsonist, the whole area comes out to watch with a sort of resigned acceptance of the crime. There's the deft (daft) inference that Rock "N" Roll is corruptible, in this instance it reduces "Johnny's" gang into Village of the Damned like aggressors, while the extended finale, where a gun comes into play, hits like a bolt of depressive tinged lightning. The supporting cast give very credible performances (though more Cushing as the tough but kindly priest would have been welcome), but the greatness comes from Baker who turns in an absorbing and sympathetic portrayal of a cop being pulled in different directions. While McCallum is wonderfully moody and schizophrenic as our troubled chief delinquent.
Now available on remastered DVD, this under seen film is waiting to be discovered by more people with an appreciation of classic British drama. 8/10
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