Low rent kitchen sink drama meets throwaway rock ‘n’ roll in an early Sixties British musical.
Prior to the Beatles, British rock ‘n’ roll was, by and large, a bit of an embarrassment, with clean-cut male singers knocking out safe, middle of the road tat while en route to becoming family entertainers. The same things happened to the American rock ‘n’ rollers of course, but at least those guys were authentic and dangerous for a couple of years – the likes of Joe Brown and Marty Wilde, the stars of What a Crazy World, never even had that going for them, being mere puppets for the likes of Larry Parnes. And frankly, by 1963, they already seemed old hat. It seems oddly apt then that they should appear in a film where they pretend to be youthful delinquents but which feels essentially more like a Lionel Bart musical, complete with chirpy cockney types.
The film opens with Marty Wilde and his delinquent mates – who seem a pain in the arse – engaged in petty theft and hooliganism on the way to the labour exchange, where the film suddenly makes a sudden and unwelcome swerve. I knew the film had music in it, but my God, it’s an actual musical, and Wilde bursts into a fairly rotten song while a bevy of racist stereotypes dance about. Seriously, this is astonishing stuff – like a Britain First nightmare of the UK, with feckless foreigners of all colours, and all seemingly in national dress, line up to sign on. Less tolerant viewers might well be pressing the Eject button by this point.
We then cut to Alf Hitchens (Brown), an unemployed teenager (like the rest of the youth in the cast, he looks a good ten years older) arguing with his parents (Harry H. Corbett and Avis Bunnage) before the rest of the rough ‘n’ ready family turn up – snotty kid Joey (Michael Goodman) and sexpot sister Doris (Grazina Frame), setting the scene for a fairly episodic tale of bored and feckless youth. The film meanders along for the best part of an hour going nowhere before at some point, somebody remembers that the movie has to go somewhere. After another night out arguing with his bird Marilyn (Susan Maughan), Alf goes home and starts to knock out a number on his ukelele – because, you know, that’s what every delinquent youth keeps under the bed rather than a guitar. Then, he’s off to Denmark Street to try and flog his new masterpiece. This at least allows for some priceless footage of the old Tin Pan Alley. Soon, he’s working for a music publisher and getting his terrible record released. Will this make him famous and give him a sense of purpose? Who knows? Not the filmmakers, it seems, as the movie effectively fizzles out.
This is a bizarre and pretty unsuccessful mix of working-class kitchen sink drama, youth gang film, comedy and chirpy cockney musical with godawful songs, the latter seeming to come every five minutes. They are all entirely forgettable and seem closer to a collection of cockney knees ups than rock ‘n’ roll numbers. You have to wonder what kids listening to the new Beat sound made of this turgid collection of bland ballads and comedy songs. Though perhaps they liked it – at one point, the characters go to a dance hall to see Freddie and the Dreamers, who are genuinely awful – it’s amazing that a terrible novelty act like this was grouped in with the Merseybeat movement and actually had a couple of years of popularity.
Written, produced and directed by Michael Carreras, best known for running Hammer Films into the ground, and frankly, family connections aside, this film should’ve been enough to stop him ever making anything again (he does, however, make a nice nod to Hammer with a scene where Alf and Marilyn go to see The Curse of Frankenstein). He brings no sense of coherence or drama to the film, and all his characters are pretty ghastly, giving the viewer no point where they can sympathise with Alf – quite the opposite in fact, you really don’t give a damn what happens to him. And there are some shocking performances, many of which seem weirdly dubbed – Susan Maughan, who had also had a pop career at the time, is especially embarrassing, her attempt to sound working class struggling against an obvious stage school accent.
The film isn’t entirely without points of interest. The appearance of Hammer favourite Michael Ripper as almost every adult in the movie is a novel twist on the idea that all oldies look-alike to delinquent youth, for instance, and it could be said that the film offers a curiously authentic sense of teenage ennui, even if that does, unfortunately, transfer to the viewer at home. Some of the dialogue is oddly near the knuckle at timed for the period, and when older generations complain about today’s youth, they should look at a film like this to see that things haven’t actually changed that much at all.
But any dramatic potential the film has is destroyed by the crowbarring in of the songs. They add nothing to the film – even at the time, I can’t see them being a selling point – and immediately ruin any sense of social realism built up. That this started out as a stage show might explain their presence, but they don’t excuse them.
Hammer completists might find this an interesting curio thanks to the presence of Carreras, Ripper and associate producer Aida Young, and if you have an interest in British rock ‘n’ roll, then this is certainly worth a look. But it’s too much of a half ‘n’ half to really have broad appeal I fear.