Monday, April 09, 2007


I have not seen many films from the "Angry Young Man" era of British cinema, realistic stories of the working-class generation of the late 50's and early 60's. I picture these movies as grimy documents of drab, desperate lives lived in smoky bars and oppressive factories, with characters who are unhappy with their present situations, and rather incoherently angry at their parents, their bosses, and society in general. Well, based on the evidence of this film, the one that brought the young Albert Finney to stardom, I wasn't far wrong. Finney works at a soulless (and occasionally dangerous) factory job in Nottingham and lives with his parents in a crowded little house. His father, also a factory worker, is content to come home and veg in front of the TV, not really paying attention to anything around him. In these domestic scenes, Finney comes off as a more sociable Alex (from CLOCKWORK ORANGE), frustrated but not knowing exactly why or what he wants. He seems to live for his partying Saturday nights, which usually end in fistfights and hangovers--we see one example early on in which he gets into a drinking contest with a sullen sailor (Colin Blakely). Finney is sleeping with a slightly older woman (Rachel Roberts) who is married to a pal of his (Bryan Pringle) at the factory, and flirting with a girl (Shirley Ann Field) he meets in a pub. Soon, Roberts is pregnant and Finney casts about randomly for a solution, notably miscarriage recipes from an aunt (Hylda Baker). Roberts considers an abortion but ultimately decides against it, and in the movie's most memorable sequence, Pringle gets some soldier friends to come after Finney at a street fair and beat him up. In the end, he chooses to marry Field and think about buying a house in a suburban project, though he claims not to want to end up like his folks, who have the basic necessities but are "dead from the neck up." A scene in the middle of the film in which Finney watches a frustrated old man throw a rock through a storefront window is echoed in the movie's last shot in which Finney impotently throws a rock at the newly built projects, suggesting that the amorphous frustrations he feels are not gone, just being displaced. Norman Rossington, best known as the Beatles' manager in A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, plays Finney's best friend, in generally the same boat as Finney but a little less hot-headed. Roberts, a fine actress (PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, FOUL PLAY) whose career highlights have been obscured since her untimely death in 1980, is excellent here, completely matching Finney, who with swagger and charisma to spare, turns what could have been an unlikable character into someone with which the audience can empathize, if not take to its heart. He also has some memorable dialogue: early on, he proclaims, "What I'm out for is a good time--all the rest is propaganda," and later in a similar tone, "Whatever people say about me, that's what I'm not!" (recently appropriated as an album title by British indie band Arctic Monkeys). A sidenote: Roberts' journals, published as "No Bells on Sunday," make for fascinating reading. [DVD]

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