Sunday, September 07, 2008

Tiger Bay

Caught up with Tiger Bay again the other night. I hadn’t seen this since it first came out in 1959. It was Hayley Mills’ first role, and she’s excellent in it, playing the somewhat amoral Gillie, a child who is so adept at lying that she can keep her aunt, the police and even the murderer on the hook when she wants. Not that she’s an unpleasant child: we have complete sympathy with her even when she’s doing something that’s going to cause distress further along the way.
J Lee Thompson was the director, and the film stands up well to the test of time. A few scenes might have been shortened if the film was being made now, but in general things move along at a fair pace. Thompson was probably a journeyman director; there’s little sense of their being a Thompson style or of him being an auteur in the vein of Hitchcock, but he turned out a good number of thrillers expertly, and what more can you ask?
Once again it’s intriguing to see (and remember) just how free children were in those days: they played in all sorts of places adults would now consider dangerous, and they went out of their houses or flats without any great sense of restriction or curfew.
Horst Buchholz made his English-speaking debut in this movie, and there’s little trace of problem with the language. Apparently he was fluent in several languages, which served him well throughout his film career, as he made movies not only in his native Germany, but in various other European countries as well. He was about 24 at the time this film was made, and was already a big star in his native country. He went on to make some classic films (particularly The Magnificent Seven) but I have little memory of him apart from this relatively small-scale British thriller.
Yvonne Mitchell gets fourth billing in the cast list, even though she has only one (extended) scene in the movie. It’s a slightly odd bit of casting – although she’s very effective in the part; she was eight years older than Buchholz, and the age difference makes it seem as though he’s in love with an older woman, rather than one who’s his own age.
Anthony Dawson, the unwitting victim in Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder appears here too, playing the man who’s been having an affair with Mitchell while Buchholz has been at sea. And there’s the delightful Megs Jenkins, who could be relied upon to play any one of dozens of parts that called for an aunt, or a housekeeper, or servant or nurse. Movies seldom gave her strong parts; these were left for the stage.
She was apparently a good friend of a Dunedin actor, Lindsay Campbell, who went to the UK in the late fifties/early sixties, to make his career in acting. A friend of mine was Lindsay’s flatmate, and I stayed at the flat several times, though I don’t think Lindsay was actually ever there (!) Lindsay’s claim to fame is that he appeared briefly in A Clockwork Orange – for about 30 seconds. When I stayed at his flat he was often away because he was working in a long-running tv series – it must have been Weavers Green, I think, as that’s the only series that’s listed against his name on Megs Jenkins appeared in it at least once.

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