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’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!
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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