Thursday 31 December 2020

The young ones… What a Crazy World (1963), Network Blu-ray/DVD

Elvis Presley has a lot to answer for, after him every popstar worth their salt just had to be in a movie and this is one that completely passed me by… although I was in nappies when it was released. Based on Alan Klein’s stage play, it’s similar to Cliff Richard’s films of the time, with a mix of pop and show tunes but at least the latter are rooted in British vernacular and along with the locations and acting, make for a convincing story of London youth.

Both Joe Brown and Marty Wilde took their inspiration from American artists like everyone else but both had more of an edge than Harry Webb and they show it on screen too. Marty Wilde is Herbie Shadbolt and is especially impressive in the early sequences as he leads his gang down Whitecross Street market, which runs between Old Street and the Barbican. He’s a big fella – six feet five inches - and with huge plates of meat (size 12??) – who carries a genuine menace as well as cheeky charm and the boy from Blackheath does not look out of place as he unsettles the stall holders and most of the folk around him.

Don't mess with the big fella on the right! Marty Wilde is tall.

The lads go to the labour exchange to find it full of citizens from other commonwealth countries which leads us into Layabouts Lament, a quite startling song about the impact immigration is having on their waiting time for dole money; things are so bad, they’re going to have to think about getting a proper job. It’s done with humour and you have to remember that the filmmakers anticipated that this would be welcomed by their audience; a reminder of sensibilities shifter albeit perhaps not as much as we’d thought.

Joe Brown can also act and as the banjo-toting Alf Hitchens looks just a little like a young David Bowie (or t’other way round!). He too ain’t working much and this is the cause of constant ranting from his dad, Sam, played by the brilliant Harry H Corbett who runs off his lines in the manner of perfectly practiced guitar solos, slamming his son for laziness and laying about. The long-suffering counter to this is from mother Mary, the equally superb Avis Bunnage, who tries to keep things on an even keel even when Alf’s get up and go seems to have gone and his younger brother, Joey, seems to be taking his lead. 

Harry H Corbett lays down the law

Their sister Doris (Grazina Frame) not only has a job but a steady boyfriend, Solly (Monte Landis) who is eminently employed too. Joey and Alf take the mickey but really Sam’s endless ultimatums about putting up of shoving off are not too far from the truth. Cue the song Bruvvers as Doris riffs alongside Joey and Alf about unending sibling grievances.

Alf has a girlfriend, Marylin (Susan Maughan, who had a hit with Bobby’s Girl in 1962) about whom his ambivalence knows no bounds, he’s in a fug, and she knows that he needs to get a hold of himself or disappear in denial. In some ways it’s a well-realised relationship, they’ve run out of steam and either they stay or they go.

Susan Maughan

Michael Carreras directs from a script he co-wrote with Alan Klein, and he brings out the very best from his amateur players with performances of natural exuberance based, not doubt, on characters not unlike themselves. There’s great use of locations, not least Fitzroy Square where Alf duets with Marylin, the north bank at Cleopatra’s Needle and then Denmark Street where Alf tries to hawk his new song to reluctant publishers. It’s his only way forward, he just needs that lucky break…

The youngsters go to concert featuring Freddie and the Dreamers – a band I once saw in Blackpool in 1971 – and showcasing a style of pop music that would soon leave the class of ’58 like Joe and Marty, in the dust. Freddie may have been a loon but his was a Manchester beat group following in the wake of the Liverpudlian style. The Dreamers would have three top three hits in 1963 and a US number one in ’64; Freddie may have been older than Marty and Joe but he was riding the wave.

Dancing to the Dreamers

Here we get the full ridiculous routine of the band in their undies for We Wear Short Shorts as well as Sally Ann dressed in Sally Army uniforms…

Anyway, back to the action, there’s a riot going on at the Dreamers’ gig as Herbie says the right thing to the wrong girl or possibly the other way round and it all kicks off… His team includes Lenny (David Nott), Dave (Barry Bethel) and Jervis (Alan Klein our song and scriptwriter). They prevail and along with Alf sing their victory in Wasn't It A Handsome Punchup. Interesting how fisticuffs are always presented as almost harmless fun from Wayne westerns to rock and pop musicals… “rumbles” sure ain’t what they used to be but there’s no denying the role of violence in youth culture.

The young woman at the heart of the dancefloor dispute... Vivyan Dunbar

Alf gets a job in a music publisher but he’s only biking around sheet music deliveries in the hope of getting a break. Marilyn’s not convinced and just wishes he’d Please Give Me A Chance. But Alf is still to enamoured by the “independence” of Herbie and the gang and they even sing a song about it.

Now, if you’re one of those people expecting success in one aspect to trigger an outbreak of responsible adult thinking about the other, then you may not be far off the mark. But I couldn’t possibly say.

Joe Brown walks down Denmark Street, London's Tin Pan Alley as was...

Dusty verdict: What A Crazy World has much good spirit and the songs are worthy efforts that allow the singers to shine as actors and interpreters.

The supporting cast is very effective, chiefly Avis and ‘arry but there’s also a very interesting device using Michael Ripper to play a variety of characters from street hawking spivs to labour exchange administrators and generic old fellas; every time he quotes the line “bleeding kids” either in condemnation of in affection. It underpins the film’s central concern of generational conflict but also reconciliation as the lads, mostly, grow up.

Alan Klein was only 23 at the time and a bit of a pop star himself, he went on to sing vocals for the New Vaudeville Band under the title of Tristam, Seventh Earl of Cricklewood… a man of many talents!

The film is now available from Network on Blu-ray as well as DVD, details on their website.


1 comment:

  1. Any idea where I can get a copy of Curriculee Curricula? You are probably the only person on the net to talk about it. I;m a big Greenslade fan. I have a music blog Cheers! Titus