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The Yellow Balloon (1953)
Exceptional early 1950s thriller deserved its X certificate!
The scene: London's east end. When 12 years old Frankie Palmer (Andrew Ray) loses the sixpence his father has given him to buy a large yellow balloon from a street seller that the boy has set his heart on, he sees that a friend of his, young Ronnie Williams (Stephen Fenemore) has already bought one and Frankie snatches it off him and runs off with it, with Ronnie in hot pursuit. Ronnie chases Frankie into a large, bomb damaged house and they are running about in the ruins when Ronnie slips and falls thirty feet to his death. Frankie scrambles down to help, but realises that there is nothing he can do. Hiding in the shadows and seeing it all, Len Turner (William Sylvester), a criminal on the run and using the ruins as a hideout from the police, convinces Frankie that the police will arrest the boy and charge him with the murder of his friend for pushing him to his death and that they must both make their getaway. Although Frankie and Len agree it was an accident, Len is adamant that the police will not see it that way and Frankie goes off with him.
Len blackmails Frankie into stealing money from his parents (Kenneth More and Kathleen Ryan) to help fund Len's escape and then uses the boy as a decoy in a pub robbery that goes horribly wrong when Len murders the publican. Realising that Frankie is the only witness to his crime, Len knows he must kill the boy, too. This develops into a terrifying hide and seek chase through a bomb-damaged; abandoned and highly perilous London Underground station with Len hot on the heels of Frankie, who is desperately trying to escape with his life!
The Yellow Balloon was one of the first films to be passed with the then new Adults Only X certificate by the British Board of Film Censors, which barred anyone under the age of 16 years from being allowed into a cinema to see the film. This was because the censor felt that the chase through the Underground station in the last reel would be very frightening for young children and Andrew Ray, 13 years old when the film was shot in 1952 and 14 years old when it was released in May, 1953, was disappointed that he wasn't allowed to go into a cinema to see his own film because he was way under the age of 16.
J. Lee-Thompson directs with a firm hand and, although the film has a cheery and light hearted first ten minutes, it soon thereafter gets more and more dramatic and menacing. The censor was right to give it an X certificate, as, although the main character is a child, this definitely isn't a kid's picture. Lee-Thompson made some excellent films in the 1950s, including Ice Cold in Alex and Tiger Bay, before going on to direct the enormously successful The Guns of Navarone. So he knew how to create tension in a picture and The Yellow Balloon is no exception to his style.
La classe de neige (1998)
Beautifully photographed, but totally boring film,
This fllm proves that you need something more than 'Scope and colour to make a film watchable...you need a good script and a good director, two things that are totally lacking here. Child actor Clement Van Den Bergh appears to be on valium throughout the film and displays a kind of passionless zero interest in the events and things going on around him. The film is incomprehensible and just a total mixed up mess, as if someone cut all the scenes out separately, jumbled them up and stuck them back together again in any old order. I couldn't make head nor tail of it. I stuck with it to the end just so I could see if it might get any better...it didn't. It's hard to see how talented (or talentless) the actors and actresses are, because the script they are given to work with is banal in the extreme. Which are the fantasy and dream sequences and which are the reality ones? Your guess is as good as mine. I've never heard of the director, Claude Miller, but whoever he is, he's no Carol Reed or Julian Duvivier. I see the film won a prize at Cannes Film Festival. Well, if the judges considered this load of rubbish to be worthy of a prize, just think how awful the rest of the films must have been that year. The only plus factor in this mess is that it is beautifully photographed, but that doesn't maintain interest for long.
The Wonder Kid (1951)
Bobby Henrey's second and last film is a little gem!
While not in the same league as that in "The Fallen Idol", Bobby Henrey's performance in his second and last film, "The Wonder Kid", is just as charming and fascinating to watch. He is totally convincing and often very touching as Sebastian Giro, a ten years old French boy and child musical prodigy found in an orphanage by Mr Gorik (Elwyn Brook-Jones) who exploits the youngster's talent as a classical pianist and turns him into an international celebrity. He even tells everyone that the boy is only seven years old in order to make the boy wonder's talent seem all the more remarkable. But Gorik is also a crook who embezzles the takings so that he has almost all the money and Sebastian gets hardly any. Coupled with that, Gorik won't allow Sebastian to enjoy the simple pleasures of being a little boy, like having a pet dog or playing with other boys or even reading comic books, because, when Sebastian isn't performing, Gorik isn't making any money out of him. He works the over tired boy like a slave who must continually practise on the piano. Sebastian's elderly English governess, Miss Frisbie (Muriel Aked) is very concerned about the boy and confronts Gorik about his crooked activities. But he dismisses her from her post. Miss Frisbie then pays a gang of junior league crooks to "kidnap" Sebastian and take him to stay in a remote lodge in the Austrian Tyrol and Gorik won't get him back until he's paid over a huge ransom which is, in effect, all the money he has stolen from the boy. It is here, in this beautiful setting, that the boy finds a freedom and a happiness he has never known and just wants to stay there forever with those who have become his friends. But trouble is on the horizon for him...
This now unjustly forgotten little film is thoroughly entertaining and wonderful to watch and definitely deserves to be restored properly and released on DVD. Apart from the truly picturesque scenery, Bobby Henrey's performance as the cruelly exploited child prodigy who moves from misery to happiness is just wonderful. Highly recommended.
Poil de carotte (1932)
Absolutely superb in every department!
Bullied by his hateful mother and by his much older brother and sister, ignored by his father, the childhood of eleven years old Francoise Lepic (Robert Lynen) is as miserable as it could ever be. An illegitimate and unwanted child, he is the main reason for the ill feeling which exists between his parents, who continue to live in the same house, but are far apart. His mother keeps him dressed in old and tattered cast-offs and hand me downs, while his much older brother and sister have the best clothes that money can buy. Meanwhile, he doesn't even have any underpants to wear; he is skinny because she denies him his share of the food; although he has fair hair, his mother insists that he has red hair and this gives her an excuse to hate him, nicknaming him Poil de Carotte (the carrot top). She always has him doing the chores while his older siblings sit around doing nothing. Miserably unhappy herself and trapped in a loveless marriage, she makes sure he is denied anything that would make him happy. In the midst of all this, Francoise has learned to put on a happy face for outsiders such as his teacher at school, while inside, he is seething with resentment and unhappiness. In the end, Poil de Carotte's suffering becomes more than he can bear and he decides to kill himself ! Considering the age of this film, eighty years old, this is one hell of a terrific film and it should be made available on DVD to a wider audience with English subtitles. Director Julien Duvivier could easily be thought of as the Carol Reed of French cinema certainly he was just as good at getting wonderful performances out of boys who had never acted before and there are some real standout scenes in this example of his work. One is where Francoise is out playing in a stream when the family's maid, Annette, comes after him in a horse and trap. His mother wants him to go home and do the chores. As they drive back to his unhappy home with Francoise driving, he sees children being loved by their parents and other adults in the fields they pass. Enraged that they can be happy when he can't, Francoise stands up in the cart and whips the horse into a furious gallop again and again as Annette tries to wrestle the reins from him. "NO ONE WILL EVER LOVE ME LIKE THAT!", he shouts, as he whips the horse to go faster and faster, almost running people down walking along the road. "NO ONE WILL EVER LOVE ME! NO ONE WILL EVER LOVE ME!", he yells, as Annette begs him to stop and tries to grab the reins from his hand. This is a stunning sequence, a superb blend of editing and scoring and acting from an eleven year old the likes of which I'd never seen before. Towards the end of the film, where his father enters the barn just in time to prevent his son from hanging himself, we see the most powerful scene in this remarkable film. "TAKE OFF THE ROPE!", the father orders as he wrestles with his son, trying to prevent him jumping off the crate. "NO! NO! NO!", cries Francoise. "TAKE IT OFF!" shouts his father. "I WANT TO DIE! I WANT TO DIE!", cries the boy.
The film was released in France in November, 1932 and Robert caused a sensation, rocketing to stardom overnight. Incredibly, the film ran for twelve months in Paris, something that was unheard of during the depression.
I had never heard the name Robert Lynen until I came across a Picturegoer magazine from October, 1948, containing a review of Carol Reed's then new film release "The Fallen Idol", where the reviewer said that child actor Bobby Henrey was comparable to another child actor, Robert Lynen, who caused a sensation in the French film "Poil de Carotte" and that Robert was killed during the war. I immediately investigated this and found that not only was there a similarity in the boy's looks and manners, but that during the war, Robert joined the French resistance (a very brave thing to do); that he was caught by the Gestapo and tortured before being executed along with fourteen of his colleagues and thrown into a mass grave. A terrible and totally unjustified end for this very talented French former child actor who had appeared in many films and was well loved. Yes, he was a real hero and I would have been proud to know him.
His remains were later removed and reburied in a proper grave and a colour photo of it can be found on the Find a Grave website. I soon bought the DVD of his 1932 film "Poil de Carotte" from amazon France and was enthralled by it, although it had no English subtitles. But a friend of mine sent me an AVI DVD-R of the film with English subtitles, which made viewing the film an even better experience. Oddly, Robert Lynen's full name was Robert Henri Lynen, so he could also have been called Bobby Henri as a child.
The Fallen Idol (1948)
Bobby Henrey's performance is outstanding!
I don't wish to duplicate other members synopses of the storyline of this wonderful, classic film, but I would like to say something about the performance of the then eight years old Bobby Henrey as Phillipe and how crucial he was to Carol Reed's realisation of The Fallen Idol. Bobby's parents were writers and he had initially been chosen to star in the film both for his looks when Reed had seen a photograph of him peering out of the window of his London apartment on the dust jacket of one of his parents books and because he was bi-lingual, having spent his early childhood in both France and England and spoke English with a French accent, which was called for in the script. Bobby had never acted before, but Reed, a man of infinite patience where children and child actors were concerned, persevered with him over an incredible shooting schedule of five months (a long time for those days) shooting numerous takes of every scene involving the boy and his dialogue, which paid off handsomely, as he managed to coax out of him the most incredible and natural performance by a child actor ever seen on the screen and certainly not bettered since.
No better example of all this can be found than in the scene where Philippe is convinced that Baines, his only friend whom he idolises, is going to be sent to the gallows for a murder he did not commit. At this point, he realises just how much he adores and loves Baines and that he cannot live without him. With all the passion in his heart and soul, Phillipe pleads with the police to listen to him as he finally decides to tell the truth about what happened in the hope that this will save his friend: "Oh, please, you must listen to me! I have something to tell you! Oh, please listen to me! Oh, please! Please listen to me! You have to listen to me! You must listen to me! It will only take a moment and it will put everything right." But the police completely ignore him. This scene is so gut-wrenchingly heart-breaking, that it's almost too upsetting to watch and you become totally involved in it and feel very deeply for this increasingly desperate little boy. It is an incredible performance that is so perfect, it has to be seen to be believed. I cannot recommend this film highly enough. It is one of the finest films ever made in the history of the cinema.
Wonderful early 1940's Technicolor classic!
All in all, one of the best, if not thee best, of the Universal American Arabian Nights fantasies made during the 1940's, with rousing action; glorious early Technicolor and a wonderful music score by the little known, but obviously very talented, Edward Ward that captures the atmosphere of the film superbly. Even Miklos Rozsa himself couldn't have done a better job on it. Scotty Beckett's performance as young Ali throughout fourteen minutes of the first reel (seventeen minutes) of "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" is totally mesmerising and wonderful. If only he could have played Ali throughout the whole film. From the start of the second reel, with Jon Hall playing Ali as a grown up, the film seems to change mood abruptly. It's still very good and entertaining, but never regains the heights it achieved in the first reel. In turn, Scotty looks so proud: "I will never fail you or Baghdad, father!", he says, with his head held high. Genuinely afraid (the murder of his father in the ambush and the burning of the boats and his first encounter with the magic stone doors in the mountain wall) and touched by magic and an incredible childlike sense of wonder as he discovers the treasures of the thieves' cave. You are there with him and feel just as he feels. It's an incredible performance for a boy of 12, going on 13.
I love watching him in this first reel and he is what you see on the screen and what you see is what you get. He must have been wonderful to know and to have as a friend in those days and it's obvious that after that, as he grew into his teenage years, something terrible must have happened to him. Why? Perhaps he was let down and abandoned and betrayed by those he misguidedly loved and trusted. The same thing happened to the likes of Bobby Driscoll and Darren Burn. A human tragedy of immense proportions in all three cases. Nonetheless, it's still wonderful to see what a fine and unique young boy and child actor Scotty Beckett was, before his world came crashing down around him. Wherever he is now, in some heavenly world of spirit, I hope and pray he has found contentment and happiness. His portrayal of young Ali in this film was, in my opinion, his crowning achievement and it's worth buying the DVD of this film just to see him in it.
I highly recommend this film, which has been so beautifully restored from the original Technicolor negatives, that it looks marvellous and both sound and picture are as clear as the proverbial bell and the film looks like it was made yesterday, although it is, in fact, sixty-seven years old, having been made in 1943 and released in 1944. In fact, the image quality is so good that the film has also been released on a Blue Ray disc.
Princes in the Tower (2005)
Could have been far better than this...a missed opportunity!
The DVD cover of this made for television film features a beautiful photo of Timotei Cresta as Edward V, aged 12 and Correntin Combeau as Richard of York, aged 10 the princes in the tower and this photo gives the misleading impression that the film is all about them, whereas they are only seen in it for a few seconds here and there in grainy flashback sequences.
99% of the film is about the adult Perkin Warbeck (Mark Umbers), a pretender to the throne who, sixteen years after the disappearance of the two princes, claims to be the adult Richard, Duke of York and then follows the very long interrogation of him by the king and his officials to try to discover the truth of the claim. The story is largely fictional, but the acting is of a very high order in what was obviously a very cheaply made production.
However, some characters and scenes are superfluous to the drama and could have been dispensed with and the film makers missed a great opportunity here to have more of the film devoted to the princes of the title, with Perkin Warbeck's interrogation taking up the rest of the drama. Instead, the princes are portrayed as very fleeting and ghostly images of the past when their presence could have been far more substantial. A good try, but it could have been done far better in more talented hands. The bonus material on the DVD, the princes in the tower excerpt from the documentary series The Tower, is actually far more entertaining and the DVD is worth getting just for the picture on the front cover alone.
The Spanish Gardener (1956)
Beautifully filmed, but toned down version, of the classic novel.
A beautifully filmed (in VistaVision and Technicolor) and very interesting character study. A sort of Eternal Triangle story where the three main characters are male. Adapted from A. J. Cronin's controversial 1950 novel of the same name, the plot concerns a middle aged diplomat at the British Consul in Madrid, Harrington Brande (Michael Hordern), who is posted to a sleepy coastal town on the Spanish Costa Brava. His wife has left him and all he has is his eleven years old son, Nicholas (played by eleven years old Jon Whiteley), on whom he dotes and of whom he is so possessive that he will not allow him to go to school or to make any friends at all, even of boys his own age. Brande wants his son all to himself. His excuse for this is that Nicholas is "delicate", having suffered a serious childhood illness and must be "protected." When Brande hires Jose (Dirk Bogarde) as a gardener for the villa, Jose and the lonely Nicholas become firm friends from their first meeting, much to the consternation of the insanely jealous Brande, who goes to much trouble to destroy the friendship between his son and the gardener.
At the time, Jon Whiteley's parents were concerned about the implied sexual relationship between Jose and Nicholas in Cronin's novel and were assured by the director, Philip Leacock and the producer and screenwriter, John Bryan, that "the darker side of Cronin's novel would be omitted and the film designed for family consumption." One scene from Chapter 15 of the novel that was cut entirely from the film was where, at Brande's insistence, his friend Professor Halevy (the character changed to Doctor Harvey for the film and played by Geoffrey Keen) has a "man to man" talk with Nicholas as the boy lays on his bed in his semi-darkened bedroom and talks to Nicholas about the boy's sexual feelings and tries to get him to admit to having a sexual relationship with Jose especially when he and Jose went fishing together in the isolated countryside something which, much to the consternation of Halevy, who is convinced that there is something of a sexual nature going on between them, Nicholas will not admit to. Even though all this was left out of the film, the film still comes across as ambiguous and the viewer is left to put their own interpretation on the relationships between Jose and Nicholas and between Nicholas and his very possessive father.
Overall, the performances are uniformly fine, only in one instance coming across as contrived
the scene where Nicholas runs into Jose's arms and sobs. Good as he was within his range, Jon Whiteley just couldn't handle this scene and comes across as the worst sounding and most unconvincing sobber in film history. Whether or not he could have handled the scene of the "man to man" talk about his character's sexual feelings and his feelings for Jose if it had been left in the film is a debatable point. Certainly, he had the right director in Philip Leacock to help him through such a scene, as it was Leacock who, three years earlier, had directed him in "The Kidnappers", for which Jon had won an Academy Award.
A truly wonderful film...one of the best!
From the opening scenes of Hunted, directly after the credits, when the dramatic music accompanies a little boy running through the streets of London clutching a teddy bear, we just know this is going to be a great film and it certainly is. Filmed in England and Scotland in late 1951 and released early in 1952, this truly is a wonderful film. The boy is six years old orphaned Scots boy Robbie Campbell (a truly outstanding debut performance by six years old Scots boy Jon Whiteley), who is running and searching for somewhere to hide after accidentally setting the kitchen curtains on fire in his adoptive London home and, believing he has set the house on fire, is fleeing the severe punishment that he believes will be meted out to him by his cruel and violent adoptive father. He ends up running into a derelict building on a bomb site some distance from home where he accidentally comes upon a man, Chris Lloyd (Dirk Bogarde), having just murdered his wife's lover in a crime of passion. Seeing that Robbie has seen the body and is the only witness to his crime, Chris abducts him and takes him on the run with him as he attempts to flee the country and the long arm of the law. Robbie, unloved at home and cruelly treated by his adoptive father, dare not return home and a bond develops between the two fugitives as Robbie flees his adoptive father and Chris flees the police and the hangman's rope.
Chris is at first completely uncaring and rough in his attitude to Robbie, but he gradually takes on the responsibility for Robbie's devotion as the two flee from London and travel up through the midlands to Stoke-on-Trent and then north into Scotland. As the journey gets tougher, Chris has to force Robbie to keep going, to carry him in his arms and to hold him, against the cold, as they sleep out in the wilderness.
It really is a superbly made drama and I read somewhere that, of all the many Rank films Dirk Bogarde made during his long career, this was his personal favourite. It is also a film record of a bygone post-war Britain; from its bomb sites and tramcars and horse drawn traffic in the capital, to the now long gone pottery factories of Stoke on Trent, belching forth their black smoke from huge bottle ovens and covered with industrial grime. The railway scenes in the film were filmed on the equally now long gone Potteries Loop Line at Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, one of hundreds of lines that fell under the Dr Beeching axe in the 1960's. All completely gone now, but captured for posterity on 35mm black and white film in Hunted.
The film is also a social record of the UK in 1951, a time of general poverty; of post-war austerity and ration books, when everybody dresses so drably. The police in the film may, by modern standards, seem to be having great difficulty in tracking down Chris and Robbie. But you have to take into account the fact that in those days, television was in its infancy; the police had no personal radio communications or computers or helicopters and the pace of life was very different. In real life 1951, a man on the run could quite easily abduct a little boy and take him all over the country with him without being apprehended. So this film then is a contemporary account of how things would have been back in 1951.
Today, in an increasingly paranoid age when, in the minds of many, man abducting little boy equals sex, this film is from a time when characters in films apparently didn't even think of such things. This mindset is no better demonstrated than by one of the police officials in the film who confesses to a colleague that he can't understand what Chris Lloyd wants with the boy. "Why does he hang on to him?" These days, the police would probably put two and two together and make five. However, the story is far more complicated than it would seem at first glance. For the film is not really as much about child abduction as it is about two people of very different ages teaming up in a common cause. Neither of them can go home again and all they have is each other.
Early on in the film, before the loving relationship between Chris and Robbie develops, Chris says to the boy: "You don't like me, do you?" "No", says Robbie. "Well, why don't you go off home, then?" asks Chris. "I don't want to go home", answers Robbie. Hence his decision to stay with Chris. As soon as Robbie gets over the initial shock of being dragged off by Chris at the beginning of the film, he comes to realise that from now on, his only future is with his co-fugitive.
At only six and a half years of age, Jon Whiteley is perfect for this film and comes across variously as scared; devious;furtive and, for a short time, happy to be with Chris and away from his abusive home. His sheer delight at seeing men hay making in a field during the long journey north has to be seen to be believed. Dirk and Jon got on so well together that when the filming finished and they had to part, Jon was reportedly inconsolable. Dirk wanted to adopt the boy, but his friends persuaded him against it. The chemistry between Dirk and Jon is plain to see and what a team they make.
This film is an absolute classic. Beautifully acted; directed and photographed. One of the best British films of the 1950's. 10 out of 10 for this black and white gem.