Monday, 1 April 2013

Violent Playground.

Off all the filmmakers involved in the social problem films in the 1950’s and 1960’s there can be little doubt that the largest and most consistent body of work belongs to director Basil Dearden and producer Michael Relph.[1] These films addressed most of the main social problems of the period including race, homosexuality and youth in such films as Sapphire (1959) The Pool (1953), Victim (1961) and A Place to Go (1963).

Youth and juvenile delinquency is also the subject of Dearden’s 1958 film Violent Playground. Shot on location in Gerard Gardens in Liverpool it was inspired by the Liverpool Juvenile Officers Scheme, which was an important and successful development outside the field covered by the probation service. The scheme was designed to deal with young first time offenders who might embark on a life of crime if not dealt with in a positive way when they first came into direct contact with the Police.  It was stared in Liverpool in 1949 and after some success was adopted by all UK police forces.
Jack Truman takes his hat off to Kathy Murphy

Detective Sergeant Jack Truman (Stanley Baker Hell is a City 1960) is taken off an arson case and temporally transferred to juvenile liaison. This brings him into contact with the Murphy family, twins Mary and Patrick, who are caught stealing from a local shop, their older sister and mother figure Kathy (Anne Haywood) who supports the family and brother Johnny (David McCallum), an unemployed Teddy Boy and leader of a local gang.  When Truman first starts his new post he announces, “I don’t even like kids. I’m clumsy, I’m tactless and I’m brutal” and he is also a confirmed bachelor. But when he begins to appreciate the social problems that engulf the family i.e. bad housing, living on a working class ghetto, unemployment and family brake up, his attitude changes recognising the value of the work of the youth club and the sympathy shown by the local school headmaster to his pupils.  He also develops a romantic interest in Kathy, but it’s the seemingly wayward Johnny that’s the fly in the ointment.
Johnny Murphy relaxes on the Gerard Gardens Estate.

Along with his Teddy Boy friends Dearden depicts Johnny as a ‘surly and ignorant bully with no redeeming factors’ [2] associating them with mindless violence and rock and roll music. As with most of the films of that period  ‘the world of music and dance is associated with sexual desire and social or family disruption’[3] and of course violence (note the gun kept in a guitar case!) and its perceived threat to civilisation. As an account of delinquent behaviour it proves that nothing has really changed in the intervening years, admittedly we do not see Teddy Boys on the street any more but we do have the apparent danger of hoodies who as we all know form gangs and carry guns and knives!!!

The treat of violence is always there!
Nina Hibbin in her film critique written in March 1958 accused the film of not being a serious study of juvenile delinquency. Calling it a gangster film of the ‘crazy mixed up kid’ variety and stated that all its psychology and reform business is simply thrown in as a gimmick. To some extent she’s correct. The film starts out as a reforming social drama via the JOS, but does tend to drift into the realms a crime drama with the developing emphasis on the arson case that leads to a climatic ending.

The Films Location cir 1957.

Convincingly acted by a great cast, which also includes Peter Cushing as a priest, and with authentic Liverpool backgrounds it’s an interesting social commentary that in fact does show, that other than the characters attire, nothing much has really changed in 55 years?

[1] John Hill Sex Class and Realism.
[2] Robert Murphy Sixties British Cinema
[3] John Hill Sex Class and Realism.

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