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  Serious Charge Living Hell
Year: 1959
Director: Terence Young
Stars: Anthony Quayle, Sarah Churchill, Andrew Ray, Irene Browne, Percy Herbert, Noel Howlett, Wensely Pithey, Leigh Madison, Judith Furse, Jean Cadell, Wilfrid Brambell, Olive Sloane, George Roderick, Cliff Richard, Liliane Brousse, Wilfred Pickles
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Larry Thompson (Andrew Ray) is a teenage ne'erdowell who has a gang of followers among this smalltown, captivated by his anti-establishment attitude and way with slang that makes him sound more American. But Larry is not a good guy to get to know, as his girlfriend Mary (Leigh Madison) finds out when he flat rejects her for getting too close to him, causing her no end of heartache. Today, when he visits a juvenile hearing at the local courts where his brother Curley (Cliff Richard) is being threatened with a spell in borstal, he brushes with the local vicar, Howard Phillips (Anthony Quayle), a do-gooder who is trying to set Curley on the straight and narrow path, but will Larry prove too much of a bad influence?

If Serious Charge is recalled for anything these days, it will be because it was the first film to feature then-teen pop singing pin-up Cliff Richard, who was soon to have his first number one hit off the back of this with a different, more laid back version of Living Doll than was heard during the movie. At the time, however, it was additionally known for being an adaptation of a sensational play by Philip King which had been wowing audiences for its frank depiction of a man wrongly accused of molesting a teenage boy, not the sort of drama that would have made it to the screen before in British cinemas, remembering this was also released at a time when homosexuality was illegal.

Rape remains illegal, of course, but the subject matter undoubtedly offered this an edginess that it would not otherwise have had, not in a British flick emulating the success of Hollywood juvenile delinquency movies at any rate. With the youth movement gripping pop culture on both sides of the Atlantic, for the first hour of this it could be any number of lame copies of rougher product from Tinseltown, with Quayle as the well-meaning, tough but fair man of the cloth (he even plays football in matches televised on national TV!) butting heads with the utterly unsympathetic Larry who, we learn, has made Mary pregnant but is more interested in seducing Phillips' French maid Liliane Brousse (because there had to be some French girl in these efforts post-Brigitte Bardot).

All this is rather stodgy, even embarrassing as you could see the benchmarks of the likes of The Wild One or The Blackboard Jungle that director Terence Young and company were aiming for, and how quaint this was actually coming across when you watched it, but then there's a twist as Larry, trying to cover up his actions with regard to Mary, accuses Phillips of trying to rape him (the script didn't use that word, but made it clear that was what it meant). To make matters worse, the spinster and church assistant Hester (Sarah Churchill, daughter of wartime Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill) who has been pining for the vicar stumbled upon Larry causing a ruckus and assumes the worst when the teen makes up his story since the pillar of the community has just rejected her earlier that very evening.

Soon rumours are rife and Phillips has been ostracised, with abusive mail sent to him, no congregation showing up and threatening acts visited upon his person, though he's good at boxing so can deck Larry's aggressive father (Percy Herbert) when push comes to shove. However, the cards are stacked against him: a single, middle-aged man, living with his mother, turning down his best bet at marriage, supposedly hiding behind a front of social concern, well, he's patently a raving pervert so who needs evidence? This does resolve itself with justice served, reminding us there's nothing like injustice to get an audience interested, and it's true to say this part of the film is far more absorbing than a film of this vintage with these themes might be expected to be. On the other hand, it is wrapped up a shade too readily, and you have to sympathise with Phillips when he's aggrieved that his previously unbesmirched character could have so much mud stick to him when the villagers wouldn't listen to reason. So about an hour of stodge, and half an hour of provocative tension. Music by Leighton Lucas.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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