London, 1954: Kids Playing On The Streets

During the school summer holidays of 1954, photographer Thurston Hopkins went out with his camera to capture the antics of young children on the streets of the capital.

This boy is hiding in a drain access. He has removed the metal cover, and is standing on the step inside. Dressed as a red Indian, he is firing his cap gun at unsuspecting passersby.

A street, and an old piece of rope to use for skipping. All they needed to have fun.

This girl is chalking on a wall. She has even added her name and self-portrait to the artwork.

Playing ‘War’. The boy on the pavement is pretending to have been killed.

These boys have made home-made bows and arrows from garden canes and string. They are firing them at a street sign. Five years later, I was doing the same thing.

The little girl is content with her ice-lolly.

This well-dressed youngster is taking her nice dolly for a walk in its pram.

These girls have constructed a primitive ‘sun lounger’, using old crates.

Boys taking turns driving a metal pedal-car.

Friends playing on a derelict bomb-site from WW2. Something I did every year as a child.

Dirt, and a discarded wheelbarrow. Ideal playthings.

This boy is playing cricket, but he doesn’t have a proper bat. He is using a stick instead.

Who knew that pushing a cardboard box along the pavement could be so much fun?

Play Streets were closed to traffic at certain times of the day so that children would be safe.

A boy in a pedal car, wearing an oversized chauffeur’s hat.


Playing on a parked coal lorry.

These naughty boys are actually throwing gravel and small stones at passing cars!

Two boys on home-made wooden scooters. I had one just like those, which my dad made for me.

Reading comics. I used to be bought The Topper every week. One of the boys is reading that.

One film, four versions: A Star Is Born

Some films are remade a lot more than once. In the case of this film, there are no less than four versions, as well as some thinly-disguised ‘copies’. Starting in 1937, with the original film starring Frederick March and Janet Gaynor, it was remade in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason, and again in 1976, with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. A fourth version is soon to be in cinemas, starring pop sensation Lady Gaga. So, take your pick, and choose your personal favourite.

This is a rare case where I enjoyed the remakes as much as the original, though I have yet to see the latest one. I even preferred Judy Garland in her 1950s film to the rather stagey original, and really enjoyed the singing of Streisand in her one.

If you have never seen it, the story is simple enough. A female protege of a fading male star is taken under his wing, and becomes a huge success, much to the annoyance of the man involved. In the 1937 original it was about acting and film stars. In the 1954 remake, it was about a musical star, so Garland could sing. Then in 1976 Streisand is a talented unknown singer, and Kristofferson a drunken rock star. Nothing much changes in all three films, except the singing.

Here’s the original.

Now Judy, singing of course.

Here’s Barbra. What a voice.

And here’s Lady Gaga, in 2018.

If I could only choose one, I would stick with Judy Garland. That would always be my first choice to watch, from this crop of remakes. The original version lacks the music, but has plenty of acting talent, and the 1976 film has Streisand’s vocals, but feels like a messier film all round. As for Lady Gaga, I will have to let you know.

One film, two versions: Seven Samurai

When I was a little over eight years old, my parents took me to the cinema to see a new western film that everyone was talking about. It was called ‘The Magnificent Seven’, and boasted an all-star cast led by Yul Brynner, with Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughan, James Coburn and Eli Wallach.
I thought it was just wonderful. The disparate team of men recruited by Brynner’s character go to save a helpless Mexican village from harassment by marauding bandits. Each man has his own skills, and very different personality. They all have their own reasons for accepting the poorly-paid job, and help the villagers in a desperate fight against the much larger gang of bandits.

This film was remade in 2016, but I have never seen that, and probably never will. But this is not about that 1960 western, which as I found out later was itself a remake. Some seven years later, I went to see a film at the National Film theatre, ‘Seven Samurai’. It was made by the legendary Japanese film-maker Akira Kurosawa, in 1954. Set in the 1580s, it is a tale of villagers harassed by bandits, who hire a lone samurai to defend their village. He enlists the help of six others, all equally loners, with different skills, and their own reasons for being there. I started to experience deja vu. The story was not only familiar, but the same. Though set in Japan of course, and with spears and swords instead of rifles and pistols. And it was a simply wonderful film, with an outstanding performance from Toshiro Mifune in the lead role.

There was no Internet then, and I was still at school, so not really able to afford expensive specialist film magazines. But some research in books informed me that the American western was nothing less than an intentional remake, though obviously in a different location, and time period. Despite the similarities, it is hard to compare the two films. One is an historical drama, with memorable set-pieces, and filmed in glorious black and white. The other is a take on the cowboy/western genre, with a superb cast, and good direction. This begs the question, “when is a remake not a remake?” I prefer to think of it as a tribute, an homage to Kurosawa, if you will. Both films are undoubtedly worth watching, and both have merits.

But of course, that leaves Kurosawa, one of my favourite directors. Then there is Toshiro Mifune, a powerful presence on screen, and an actor capable of great nuance too. So I am obviously going to say the the Japanese original is the better film. But the western is very good too.

Retro Review: Magnificent Obsession (1954)

***Plot spoilers are numerous***

Before glossy soap operas began to be so popular on television, we had the Hollywood films of Douglas Sirk. Few directors used such lavish colour in every production, lending a dream-like air of perfection to something as simple as purple curtains, or a lush grassy lawn. Paired with lavishly painted backdrops, these films were an escape from the dull streets of our towns and cities, and portrayed an ideal of wealthy living, where housekeepers made the dinner, as the gardener trimmed the perfect hedges. More like the life we would love to have had, than the one we lived in.

This romantic drama throws it all at the viewer. A rich feckless playboy, spending his time driving cars and boats too fast, hanging out in country clubs, attended by money-grabbing girls. A respectable widow, doing good work at the local hospital, and an accident that robs her of her sight. A wise family friend, artistic, dependable, and there to guide all the main characters. And the loyal nurse and friend, who can always be counted on. Luxurious houses by the beach, executive cars, and a friendly populace subservient to their needs, always respectful and grateful.

It is all nonsense of course, but simply glorious nonsense.

When playboy Bob Merrick (Rock Hudson) crashes his motor boat, he is close to death, and the only portable resuscitator in the town is collected from Doctor Phillips’ house, to save his life. Meanwhile, the doctor’s new wife, Helen, (Jane Wyman) arrives home from a shopping trip to hear the terrible news that her husband has died of a heart attack. The portable resuscitator would have saved his life, but had been taken to use on the spoiled Bob Merrick. The bereaved Helen takes over the running of the small hospital, ably assisted by her step-daughter, and that loyal nurse, Nancy. (A reliable Agnes Moorehead performance)
When Merrick realises that Doctor Phillips died so he could live, he tries to donate thousands of dollars, to assuage his conscience. Helen refuses his money, and he begins to pursue her, trying to make up for his past bad deeds. On one occasion when she is trying to escape his attentions, she is hit by a car, and loses her sight.

Cue tragedy all round. Nancy helps of course, as does the step-daughter. Helen does her best to cope with the blindness, and has to face the knowledge that it is incurable. Consumed with guilt, Bob Merrick takes to watching Helen, as she sits on the beach. Eventually, he befriends her, using a false name. (No idea why she didn’t recognise his voice) Naturally, the blind woman falls madly in love with the ‘stranger’, and he returns her affection. He decides to use some of his considerable fortune to send her to Switzerland, where he is sure the best surgeons can restore her sight. After lots of tests, they say they can do nothing, so Merrick flies over to be with her. This gives us the chance to see a Hollywood recreation of Switzerland, with locals in traditional dress, and friendly villagers. You have to try not to laugh during that segment.

Finally realising the ‘stranger’ is Merrick, Helen forgives him, and he asks her to marry him. But she will not saddle her new love with a blind wife, and leaves with Nancy, destination unknown. Whilst trying to find her, Bob decides to go back to medical school, and train as a neuro-surgeon. The passing of time is shown in typical Sirk fashion, with the views from a window changing from summer blooms, to deep snow, and Rock Hudson’s hair greying at the temples. After an unspecified time, Bob is now a skilled surgeon, and has all but given up on ever finding Helen. He gives away most of his money, and dedicates his life to his medical work. Out of the blue, he is contacted by Nurse Nancy. Helen is desperately ill, and has been admitted to a small clinic in Arizona.

Bob drops everything (including his waiting surgical cases, presumably) and flies out to see her. When he hears that the local doctors cannot perform the brain operation necessary to save her life, he reluctantly goes ahead and operates on her himself. Of course, it is successful, not only saving her life, but restoring her sight. This is a Sirk film after all, and it was made in 1954. No sad endings allowed.

Imagine having a sickly-sweet cake. You know you shouldn’t eat it, but the pleasure is too much to resist. You wolf it down in one sitting; overdosing on sugar, and feeling more than a little guilty. But you enjoyed it, nonetheless. That’s what this film is like. And I enjoyed that cake.