Saturday, 9 May 2020

Nice and sleazy does it... Jungle Street (1960)

This falls into that intriguing sub-genre of Soho strip-joint based dramas along with Beat Girl (released 28th October 1960) and Expresso Bongo (released 1st December 1959) and was probably the last to be released. It may lack the authenticity of the former – which used professional strippers – and the wit of the latter – which used Cliff Richard – but it’s noteworthy all the same.

There are some lukewarm reviews on IMDB for the film but it’s a convincing kitchen-sink crime drama with a memorable if occasionally jarring lead performance from David McCallum as the troubled petty crook Terry Collins. As Collins, McCallum never lets the intensity drop as a rebel with no cause but his own and no loyalty to family or friends. The exception to this is dancer Sue, played by McCallum’s then wife, Jill Ireland who I have to say provides the most stunning of catwalks for her moment in the club; she’s got star power to spare, as with her husband, and near infinite legs!

David McCallum
As with the excellent but underused Kenneth Cope, they bring out what there is of the drama and make this low budget Las Vegas a low-impact but compelling watch for a bank holiday afternoon; the showgirls may be faking it but the feeling of supressed violence and desperation is tangible.

All begins with an old man’s late-night bus journey from Notting Hill set to a swinging Harold Geller score. He arrives at his destination and gets fatally knocked out by a blackjack wielded by petty Terry who takes his money and throws his wallet down the drain.

We’ve had the violence so now it’s time for “sex” as we enter the Adam and Eve club presumably down a dark Soho Alley to find smiley Marian Collins introducing a variety of acts starting with “Dimples” (Vanda Hudson) in tight-fitting silver slacks and, initially at least, matching top, as she strips and sings “I’m Only a Girl” to row after row of pale, stale males sucking harder on their cigarettes with every gyration and discarded item of clothing; it’s definitely the singer and not the song.

Jill Ireland and her near infinte legs...
Terry arrives at the club just as a black dancer (Faye Craig) gives the film’s most overtly sexual performance – just as with Pascaline in Beat Girl… the differing moral standards of the age towards “native” dance and expression? He settles down to a short and salty exchange with Joe Lucas (Brian Weske) a lower league but established criminal who none-the-less has more street smarts.

Backstage, star attraction Sue, who is fending off the advances of club owner and gutter entrepreneur, Jacko Fielding (John Chandos) before taking to the stage. Sue’s dance is perhaps more graceful and composed than you’d expect in such a dive but Jill Ireland simply acts her way through it with a range of expressions that conveys much beyond the choreographed physical routine. With the occasional cut-away to an increasingly distracted Terry, she’s defiant, alluring and ultimately in control of the room. You get the feeling there could have been a much deeper story here.

But. Not today… what we get is not enough character development and a story that, whilst competently directed by Charles Saunders, falls between the twin stools of titillation, crime and socially aware drama.

Grumpy breakfast with mum and his ol' dad.
Terry’s tense breakfast with his belligerent Dad (Thomas Gallagher) and long-suffering mother (Edna Doré) starts with a close-up of a fry-up and abrasive exchanges that almost lead to violence; they’re a family on the brink and Terry’s either going to put up or shut up. The headline in The Daily Express tells him there is no going back as it’s revealed that his mugging has turned into a murder.

But no one seems to take Terry seriously and as the girls in the club, Dimples, Margo (Anne Scott) and another (Gillian Watt) laugh at him he slaps out and is floored by a fierce straight right from Dealer (Fred Griffiths). Terry just hasn’t got what it takes and just doesn’t know it and as Sue takes pity on him, getting him laid out in her dressing room her quickly turns from grateful of hateful as he forces himself on her.

Things are about to get worse for Terry though as his former partner in crime, Johnny Calvert (Kenneth Cope), gets early release from Wormwood Scrubs and comes looking for his share of the proceeds from the job that landed him in clink as well as his old love, Sue. Terry’s spent the money though, of course, but has a plan to rob the club and pay his mate back in spades.

Gillian Watt dances as Kenneth Cope and David McCallum make plans
Johnny’s hard to persuade though after making up with Sue – accepting his own part in her having to turn to this life even as Jacko is lining up a new star dancer Dolly (a brief cameo from Jacqueline Jones who was in Antonioni’s Il Grigo in 1957). Meanwhile the coppers have found the old man’s wallet and, having identified prints, are sweeping the neighbourhood trying to find the matching fingers…

Time is running out and everything will turn on the boy’s plan to rob the club – just one last job to get Johnny the money to get away with Sue and Terry’s only hope of escaping the law. What do you reckon’s going to happen?

Dusty Verdict: Jungle Street is very near the real thing and is saved by the grit of McCallum and the grace of Ireland. There’s decent support all round and you do end up caring about – most – of the characters although Terry’s a particularly un-redeeming character which, to be fair, is the point; we keep on expecting him to turn the corner but he can’t and whatever he sows, he reaps. Plenty of character actors to spot and there’s a smashing turn from Meier Tzelniker as elderly jeweller Mr. Rose. Shirley Anne Field has a bit part too although she doesn’t dance.

Attentive audience
Vanda Hudson
Marian Collins
Faye Craig
Jill Ireland
Anne Scott
Gillian Watt
John Chandos and Jacqueline Jones who had a much bigger role in Antonioni's acclaimed Il Grido (1957)

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