Network’s new British Film collection is rapidly shaping up to be pretty damned essential – not just for camp horror like Konga and sexy romps like Spanish Fly, but also for more oddball obscurities. Case in point, this 1962 youth movie that has languished pretty much unnoticed for decades despite a surprisingly starry (or soon to be starry) cast.
This story of aimless youth isn’t exactly Rebel Without a Cause, The Wild One or even Wild Guitar, despite the presence of motorbikes and something that loosely resembles rock ‘n’ roll. Instead, it’s a curious, but oddly effective mix of teen movie, kitchen sink drama and public information film that opens with rockers Johnnie (Ray Brooks), Bert (David Hemmings) and Bill (David Andrews), who take a spill out on a joyride in Bristol (displayed as a metropolitan mecca in the flashy opening titles) and find themselves up in front of a humourless upper class magistrate – a pretty accurate portrayal – and stuck with a £40 fine and a twelve month driving ban. Their only source of fun cut off, the three kick around town engaging in lightweight delinquency of the sort that would almost make them pillars of society by modern standards before ending up in a church where Johnnie pumps out some rock ‘n’ roll on the organ before a sour-faced vicar (Michael Gwynn) interrupts. Rescued from a good telling off by choirmaster Mr Smith (Kenneth More), the three are encouraged to use the church hall for band practice and soon, Smith’s influence is telling on them in different ways.
Bill rebels against the parental authority of Smith and soon quits the band, but the other two start to find focus – Johnnie gets in with Smith’s cute daughter Anne (Anneke Wills) and the pair are joined by Terry (Angela Douglas), black drummer Jimmy (Frankie Dymon) and Tim (Timothy Nightingale) as they form a new band, heavy on twangy guitars and Shadows dance moves (the film credits the rock ‘n’ roll tunes to The Eagles, but don’t expect to hear Hotel California…). Smith also encourages the formerly aimless kids to join the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme – something that producer James Archibald had worked with making documentaries in the past, and which this feature film was also designed to promote. As the kids find focus building canoes and knitting(!), only Bill holds out, leading to a brief spot of violence and a crisis of conscience for Johnnie, who has also broken up with Anne after she reveals her plans to attend university and ‘meet other people’.
Some People has the potential to be an utterly square bit of propaganda aimed at convincing off-the-rails youth to straighten out and conform, and it’s to the credit of writer John Eldridge and director Clive Donner that it mostly avoids that – not an easy task given the paternal presence of More and the need to work in the DoE campaign. To be fair, the latter does feel a little forced at points, but generally the film avoids laying it on too thick, instead weaving into a general change in the characters as they find purpose in life. It could just as easily be their rock ‘n’ roll dreams that are putting them on the right path.
But it’s not so much the story of Some People that makes the film as it is a collection of little touches. With naturalistic, overlapping and seemingly improvised dialogue, the film (and its cast) does a great job of making what might have seemed a fairly one-dimensional bunch of characters feel very real. The relationships don’t feel forced or unconvincing, the conflicts are not overplayed and the drama kept deliberately low key. There are stand out moments – Anneke Wills sat in the bath wearing jeans so they would shrink as tight as possible (teenagers really did that in the 1960s – perhaps hipsters still do it now); Brooks bumping into sozzled dad Harry H. Corbett in the local pub and sitting down for a drink where the generation gap and distance between father and son is rather poignantly played out; the boys wandering through Bristol at night peering at girly mags in shop windows; and the remarkable early Sixties ambience that has rarely been captured as authentically and effortlessly as this (thank God this was shot in colour, all the better to appreciate both the neon nightlife glow and the bleak, great streets in the day time).
Some People might be a work of fiction, put it looks and feels more like a documentary – hardly surprising, given that it’s Archibald’s only drama. It seems tame now – the gangs of bikers are pretty unthreatening (even the climatic conflict is little more than pushing, shoving and petty vandalism), the ‘wild’ youth remarkably polite and their ideas of fun charmingly innocent (Brooks is uncomfortable in the pub, preferring the coffee bars, and he has a curiously good-natured scrap with Bill in a skating rink). They say the past is a different planet, and that certainly seems to be the case here. But it’s a planet that is fascinating to travel to and Some People is a fantastic time capsule from a pre-Beatles era of youth culture that has rarely been captured with such honesty.