The Boys (1962)
User ReviewsReview this title
Well worth watching, too, for a sterling cast of British troupers, as well as a genuinely unexpected ending.
And good, too, to see some political awareness slipped into the action with its portrayal of working-class Londoners, as well as an acknowledgement of boredom - not many many films are brave enough to show their characters genuinely trying to deal with boredom!
The Boys in question are four teenagers charged with murder of an elderly night watchman during a robbery.
Several social issues are 'on trial' Firstly, the generation gap. This was a time when 'teenagers' were a new concept in Britain (the four are described disparagingly by their elders as 'teddy boys'), and this perception his used by the defence to show that teenagers are harshly judged by their elders.
The four in question are rowdy and ill mannered enough but rather too well spoken for real working class teenagers (particularly teen idol of the day Jess Conrad). However their plight is gripping enough to hold the interest of the viewer.
In England in 1962 a) an 18 year old could hang for murder but not a younger accomplice (one of the most notorious incidents of the time was the hanging of 18 year old Derek Bentley - 1956 - while his younger accomplice who fired the fatal shot, could not be hanged) b) some types of murder - killing during a the commission of a crime - were capital, others not.
The film points up these anomalies and was making a serious social criticism at the time.
The film is a believable portrayal of poor lads on a night out that went disastrously wrong and has a nice little twist in the tail
Worth hanging about to see this one - 8 out of 10
Then Robert Morley as the boys' defence lawyer visits them in the cells and zap! the film comes alive. Perhaps because Morley's in control? He was a great actor, not to mention writer and director.
The guys playing the boys are excellent too. They slouch in their chairs while Morley lays into them for not giving him anything to go on. He tells them how he was always taunted at school for being fat and gains their confidence.
Then the boys go into the witness stand one by one and tell the story from their point of view. Yes - it's the Rashomon plot. We see their poor homes and parents, some antagonistic, some sympathetic. They tell the story of their attempt to have fun 'up west' in London's entertainment district, foiled by their lack of cash. See it if you want to know if they're guilty!
There are some great British character actors including the lovely Betty Marsden, but the prosecuting lawyer is miscast - he looks about as dangerous as a kitten. Roy Kinnear is an embarrassment, but he's given the impossible task of trying to convey a witness with concealed and unspecified 'mental trouble' - something the British public were even more ignorant about back then.
Dudley Sutton stands out as the gang leader. I believe he became an alcoholic and recovered and since the late 70s has popped up on television playing charming old buffers. xxxxxxx
Courtroom drama in which we're shown the same events two different ways, first by the witnesses and then the defendants, so that we don't know whether we're seeing the truth or not. Both versions are similar but the subtle differences are enormous in terms of whether they're innocent or guilty. We're inclined to believe the defendants, at first, that all there is against them is a "farrago of circumstantial evidence", as defending council, Robert Morley puts it. It all actually turns out to be a rather large red herring though.
Kids carrying knives gives the film a bit of relevance for today. The boys' teddy boy clothes (actually rather smart) and music by the Shadows (mainly timpani drums) perhaps don't. The whole thing plods along for twenty minutes of events leading up to the crime: a bus to Surrey Docks with nervous conductor Roy Kinnear; a snack bar in a billiards hall; Alan Cuthbertson (who also pops up as a lawyer in Performance and Twitchin in Fawlty Towers) as a motorist; Wilfrid Bramble (Steptoe) as a toilet attendant; and Colin Gordon, as Gordon Percy Lonsdale, waiting in a cinema cue to see Hungry For Love. Gordon was at the Ministry of Pensions for thirty two years and he's a widower. No wonder he's hungry for love.
This is all punctuated by prosecution council Richard Todd telling witnesses in the dock to "take your time - watch his lordship's pencil", and Montgomery (Morley) giving it lots of "I put it to you" in defence. The film comes to life when, "backstage", Morley explodes and starts kicking off on the defendants. "You spread your net of terrorism over half of London "
"Leave him alone you fat, old " replies Ronald Lacey (Harris in Porridge, Lacey also does a nice little turn in a Sweeney episode "Thou Shalt Not Kill") doing his daft, overgrown kid role. (His ambition is to own a big house in the country and have the Spurs playing on the football pitch "with only me watching, see.")
We're left to draw our own conclusion as to why Stan (Dudley Sutton) commits murder: if you carry a knife you're going to use it sooner or later; we're all just one step away from losing control; or maybe it's all down to ineffectual parenting Stan's dad (Wensley Pithey) can't even be arséd to apply for a council flat while his wife is dying of cancer.
All in all this is a great snapshot of a forgotten era.
I won't dwell on the plot - suffice it to say that it's presentation is sufficiently original to hold the viewer virtually spellbound in an emotional roller-coaster (big dipper to you Brits!) Rather, the value of this movie is the tantalizing peek it affords us to a Great Britain in general, and a London in particular, immediately pre-Beatles.
This movie is a "must see" for those who wish to visit or re-live the London of 1962! It's a gritty, no holds barred look at the time between Harold (You-never-had-it-so-good) Macmillan's nineteen fifties and the Swinging Sixties.
What works especially well though is that the film does not conclude in the way you might expect, which makes it strong and relevant even many years after capital penalties for murder, for example, have been removed. Good performances from leads and cameos both.
All of this feels fresh and original in the hands of Sidney J. Furie (THE ENTITY), a superior director who's tried his hand at many genres during many decades. THE BOYS suffers from being overlong with a running time that eclipses two hours but is quietly gripping for the most part and also very well acted. I particularly liked the way the accused are portrayed as mindless thugs at the outset, and yet when you get to hear their own story they change and become sympathetic; it's a little like RASHOMON. The ending completely wrongfoots the viewer, leaving this an unpredictable film throughout.
The casting is exemplary. Richard Todd and Robert Morley are the big name stars here but it's the youths who really shine: in particular Dudley Sutton (aka LOVEJOY's Tinker!) is outstanding as the knife-wielding Teddy Boy. Ronald Lacey delivers a desperate turn some two decades before RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, and only Jess Conrad feels wooden. The supporting cast is an endless parade of familiar faces: Patrick Magee, Roy Kinnear, Wilfrid Brambell, Felix Aylmer, Allan Cuthbertson, David Lodge, and music by The Shadows to boot. It's really magnificent.
Given this theme of age versus youth (a common theme in the sixties) it is perhaps unfortunate that, although the boys are supposed to be teenagers, the actors playing them were all in their late twenties. Indeed, Dudley Sutton who played the ringleader, Stan Coulter, was actually a year older than Roy Kinnear who played one of the supposedly older prosecution witnesses.
The social realist aspects of the film are well done, giving a vivid picture of the era. (The term "kitchen sink" seems particularly apt in this case, as most of the scenes set in the boys' homes do indeed take place in the kitchen, with the sink very much in evidence, emphasising that for working-class people the kitchen often also served as a dining room and living room). This is not the middle-class "swinging London" that we see in films from a slightly later period such as "Darling" or "Blow-Up", but a London that seems to come straight from the pages of a Colin MacInnes novel, a world of Teddy Boys, coffee bars and billiard halls. To a modern audience it may seem odd that the boys' style of dress should have aroused so much hostility among their elders, as by today's standards they are all very smartly dressed, but in the fifties and early sixties this sort of dandyish appearance was regarded as the hallmark of the violent Teddy Boy movement.
The courtroom aspects of the film could also have given rise to an interesting drama, an illustration of the idea that there are always two sides to every story and a plea for greater tolerance by the older generation of the ways of the young. Unfortunately, this side of the film did not work for me. There are two main problems. One is that the prosecution simply do not have a case in the first place. There are no eye-witnesses to the stabbing, no confessions, no forensic evidence, no statements by police investigators explaining why these four boys are regarded as the prime suspects. The only evidence the prosecution call is from members of the public who saw the boys on earlier occasions during the fateful evening, and this amounts to little more than "Those lads struck me as a gang of ruffians". Such evidence would be quite inadmissible under English law; even if it were admissible it would not by itself constitute the "proof beyond reasonable doubt" needed for a conviction. Evidence of a propensity to dress like a Teddy Boy, to engage in horseplay or to commit minor vandalism is not evidence of a propensity to commit murder. Robert Morley gives a characteristically florid performance as Montgomery, Counsel for the defence, but this struck me as a layman's idea of a criminal lawyer, in love with his own rhetoric and more concerned with scoring debating points than with the law. In real life he would doubtless have tried to persuade the Judge to disallow the prosecution evidence and to get the case struck out on a submission of no case to answer.
The other problem with this film is that it abruptly changes direction near the end, a reversal of direction which undermines the message about not judging by appearances and being tolerant towards the young. We have been led to think that the boys are innocent, that the case against them is based on nothing more than prejudice, and that the film will end in their acquittal. Then, unexpectedly, Coulter breaks down under cross-examination and admits to the crime. It appears that he and two of his companions are indeed guilty (the fourth is acquitted). The film suddenly becomes an "issue" movie about the capital punishment as Coulter is sentenced to death. We are clearly intended to regard this as an unjust sentence, but Coulter is undoubtedly guilty of having struck the fatal blow; the two others (who cannot receive the death penalty, being under eighteen) are guilty only on a legal technicality. As anti-death-penalty propaganda the film is not very effective; it might have had more impact if the situation had been reversed and Coulter had been sentenced to hang for a crime actually committed by a younger accomplice. (As another reviewer has pointed out, this was the in position the real-life Bentley case).
This could have been a gripping courtroom thriller, but was too clumsily handled. At most it is an interesting, but slight, period piece from the early sixties. 5/10
I had my doubts as to the authenticity of the court proceedings, and I didn't quite follow the attitude changes of Todd as the prosecutor.
With so much debate now going on in Britain about "feral youth" (to use a perhaps provocative term), the film posed various questions that are still being asked today, and it would seem that since they were posed in 1962 society has not found the answers.
The boys are Dudley Sutton, Jess Conrad, (a British pop star of the time cast obviously to draw the youth market), Ronald Lacey and Tony Garnett, (yes, that Tony Garnett before going on to fame as producer of real social-realist films made mainly for television), and they stand accused of killing a night-watchman as they tried to rob a garage. The film bounces back and forth between the courtroom and the night in question; (the courtroom scenes are dull and talkative and aim for an air of 'authenticity'). The prosecuting counsel is Richard Todd who can't seem to muster any enthusiasm while Robert Morley stands for the defence. Morley is the best thing about the film; he's lively and he gives the film something of a buzz. (He also gets to do the 'serious' speech at the end). Ultimately it's the kind of movie that at half its length and done on TV might just have made an impact but on a widescreen and at two hours plus just seems to drag on forever. Give me Judge Judy any day.