Monday, 17 January 2011


Anthony Newley with Alfred Burke

Despite having directed both CROMWELL and CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, Ken Hughes (1922-2001) seems to be a forgotten figure in the history of the British Film industry. His TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE with Peter Finch is one of his best films but a lot of entertainment can be had by seeking out some of the inventive B-Movies he made back in the fifties such as JOE MACBETH (a gangster version of Shakespeare with Paul Douglas and Sid James) and noir like THE HOUSE ACROSS THE LAKE with Alex Nichol. Often working with B-list American stars, Hughes had the knack of making his minuscule budgets look bigger than they were and perhaps more importantly he knew how to keep his stories (he wrote many of his films) moving.THE SMALL WORLD OF SAMMY LEE, based on his own TV play - a one hander from 1958 that also starred Anthony Newley - comes from his transition period into bigger budgets sparked by the success of the OSCAR WILDE movie. The story is so simple that it is almost a cliche. Sammy is a comedian in a Soho strip joint who looses money to a local gangster in a fixed poker game and is given a set time to raise the money. The original play (remade twice for European television) was simply Sammy and a telephone but for the film Hughes has wisely opened out the action as Sammy criss crosses the streets of Soho desperately trying to save himself a beating. The film was released in 1963, a year after I started work in Soho, and Hughes makes wonderful use of actual locations such as Wardour Street, Old Compton Street, Lisle Street and Berwick Market. This shots are superbly merged with studio work at Shepperton - so much so that it is hard to tell the studio exteriors from tnhe real thing. I knew these streets well for seven years and found, for the most part, that the film was a pretty accurate depiction of Soho and its people. Newley is excellent and the supporting cast is one to relish with such reliable performers as Julia Foster, Wilfred Brambell, Roy Kinnear, Alfred Burke, Kenneth J.Warren, Robert Stephens, Miriam Karlin and Warren Mitchell. Rating ****

1 comment:

John Tunstill said...

Sammy Lee locations, Soho and East End. Then and now shots.