Sunday, 28 February 2021

The younger ones… Two Left Feet (1963)


London's teenage jungle blazing vividly to life...

There’s a brightness and energy to this film that goes beyond my reaction to the youthful zest of the stars to be on screen, its mildly-annoyed young man/coming of age storyline is very much of its time – a good thing! - but the performances ultimately bring through the flavour of the characters and convince. The film is based on David Stuart Leslie's novel, originally entitled In My Solitude (1960), which was praised by the Daily Express for describing 'Fings as they are. . . Fresh observation, no self pity, no phony sociology, rough and squalid, yet redeemed often by sardonic Cockney humour. A story as convincing as it is readable'.

There’s little about Stuart Leslie on the internet but he seems to have written some interesting books about London life, notably Two Gentlemen Sharing (1963), a multi-racial flat share story which was also made as a film in 1969, along with thrillers and adventure novels right up to popsploitation fare with titles like Snap, Crackle and Pop and Bad Medicine. His writing style for what became Two Left Feet, is very much in the vernacular, with lines like:

“Me and my two left feet!” I said wiping down inside my shirt almost to my belly button. I saw her eyes following my hand and I said to myself, ‘Watch it girl!’

Julia Foster and Michael Crawford

Now you have to imagine an impossibly young Julia Foster as the “girl” in question, Beth a shop worker, and an equally youthful Michael Crawford as Alan Crabbe, labourer by day and improving dancer by night. Foster was 19 and Crawford was 21 just five years on from playing a lad in Soapbox Derby (1958) and half a century before being named as a national treasure, as indeed is Ben Fogle’s mum, Julia!

Directed by stalwart Ray Ward Baker, Two Left Feet kicks off where it means to carry on with some fantastic location shots of our hero emerging from the tube at Piccadilly Circus and giving superb location shots of old Soho as young Alan’s eye is caught by all manner of sexually interesting sites. The credits roll as he gawks at the magazines in a shop window – Click, Honey, Cherie, Revels… walks along Moor Street to Old Compton Street and ending up at the Bijou Cinema where they are screening the “Fabulous Pamela Green” in Naked as Nature Intended – reviewed in all seriousness earlier on this blog!

Alan window shopping

Alan is 19 and inexperienced as a dancer and a lover which is the source of constant ribbing from his workmates who include the lovely David Lodge as Bill and Cyril Chamberlain as Miles, older married men who have seen it all before. The work mates’ luncheon is enlivened by the new girl at the corner café, Eileen played by Nyree Dawn Porter, 27 at the time but still the youngest I’ve seen her pre-Protectors and Forsyte Saga. Eileen gives as good as she gets as the lads banter and takes a shine to Alan, gently pushing his buttons to get his interest.

Gradually Alan builds up the courage to ask Eileen out and he takes her up West to the subterranean The Florida Club which is – checks Reel Streets – under the Bridgewater Road tunnel. They ask another youngster Brian (David Hemmings, also 21 and not quite as eye-catchingly cool as he would be in Blow Up) if he can sign them in with his membership and they start to cut a rug to Bob Wallis and his Storyville Jazzmen and other cool cuts. Albert’s limited moves don’t impress Eileen quite so much as Brian’s young pal Ronnie (Michael Craze, just 20 and a very talented actor who would do far more in a varied career that included that spell in the Tardis) dancing with the simply stunning Dilys Watling (also 20) as Mavis.

Michael Crawfor and Nyree Dawn Porter

The youngsters chat between dances and there’s that awkwardness you’d expect and so many passions running deep and slightly out of control. Eileen dances with Ronnie, Mavis looks longingly at Brian and Alan’s attention is caught by a pretty young blonde, Beth (Julia Foster). At times it feels as if some of the dialogue could have been improvised as it’s jarring but that could just be the excellence of the cast in building the fragile bridges of attraction and male connection.

Eileen and Alan keep on going but he doesn’t really know how to proceed and after one fumbled coupling only increases the tension between them. Beth is a different proposition, easier company for Alan who is more relaxed around her, showing his moral balance by accepting the awkward truths of her father’s suicide which she is both shamed by and resolved. Alan’s father is a policeman, played by Bernard Lee, and it’s only later when we see them together that we understand the son’s debt to his upbringing.

Dilys Watlting, Michael Craze and David Hemmings

Meanwhile, there’s nearly murder on the dancefloor as Eileen starts dating Ronnie, Alan goes with Beth and Mavis gets engaged to Brian, the first steps towards the “grown-ups”. There’s a great blow out at the wedding with Mavis’ Uncle Reg (Michael Ripper who always delivers) arranging party games at the reception. This is when matters come to a head with Eileen but also with Ronnie… the group consider him too young at 17 and Alan had previously made some comment about him needing to decide “which way he’s going…” all of which oblique coding is given stark context when, in a kissing game in which the boys are blindfolded, Brian replaces Eileen and Ronnie ends up kissing him.

Tensions rise further between Alan and Eileen as well as Beth and Ronnie… and the final couplings are in doubt until the very end.

Ever since Mr Axelford's Angel, I've held a place in my heart for Julia...

Dusty Verdict: Two Left Feet (1963) is as interesting for its times as well as for it’s leading actors. In the end it was given an X Certificate and not fully released until 1965 by which time the names were far better known but society and audience had moved on. This is a shame as it’s well made and more sophisticated than I expected with nuance not just from Dawn Porter but also from the prodigiously talented Foster and Crawford.

Crawford’s character as a narrative of its own which convinces as he gains the confidence of a man in tune with the dance as well as his own instincts. Michael Craze is also excellent as the cat on a hot tine roof, barely of age, carrying a flick knife and at war with himself. David Hemmings and Dilys Watling have lesser range to their roles but both deliver in terms of watchability and in Dilys’ case, dancing! I once saw her coming out of the Liverpool Playhouse in the seventies and she even walks in time!

Dilys dances!

The film is available from Network Distribution direct from their website and the DVD comes with production shots and looks great!

Now, time to find some of David Stuart Leslie's other works…





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