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Swine Classic Films
The Boys (1962) Dir Sidney J. Furie
By Phil Thornton
This lost British classic was screened late one night last year as I was about to hit the sack. Tired and pissed I may have been but the strength of the story, the understated direction and powerful performances made me stay awake til the end. Put simply, The Boys is one of the best British ‘crime’ films I’ve ever seen. Filmed in black and white and set against a backdrop of London’s tenement estates, it depicts a night out which goes disastrously wrong.
Four young friends, Stan, Billy, Ginger and Barney played by Dudley Sutton, Ronald Lacey, Tony Garnett and Jess Conrad respectively meet up for a night ‘up west.’ They are stereotypical ‘teddy boys’ from the rough end of town and the film depicts them larking about, playfully menacing the ‘law abiding’ citizens before a series of mishaps and let-downs results in a robbery on a garage. During the botched robbery, the watchman is killed and the accused all have differing accounts of what happened. The action begins in court and the events are presented in a series of flashbacks.
Dudley Sutton is a revelation as the angry Stan with Jess Conrad brilliant too as the handsome and sharp Barney with whom Stan ends up fighting. The action is underplayed, these lads are not flash Harrys, they’re skint, they can’t pull birds, they’re pretty useless all in all. Typical lads then, whatever era they hail from. Far from demonising these ‘teddy boys’ however, Stuart Douglass’s sensitive script allows each character to become three dimensional, prone to all the usual teenage emotions; self-doubt, undirected anger, frustration and irreverence. They are victims of circumstance themselves and even though one of them is a murderer – after a Rashomon style ‘whodunnit’ the killer is exposed as Stan – we are left feeling a great amount of sympathy for the boys in question.
Robert Morley who plays the boys’ lawyer is also fantastic as he attempts to wheedle the truth from the sullen, non-communicative young lads he’s attempting to defend. This little masterpiece was shot when ‘murder in the furtherance of theft’ was still punishable by hanging and so the lawyer’s frustrations are magnified, knowing that one or other of the accused could well be executed for the crime. There is no directorial gimmickry involved, just a gradual unpeeling away of various accounts of ‘the truth’ based upon often misleading witness accounts of the boys behaviour and the boys’ own testimonies. The Boys is a masterclass in gritty British urban storytelling that is neither sensationalist nor preachy.
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