I wrote about this 1961 British film exactly a year ago, July 2010, on the old S & A website, and now it’s been announced that it’s coming out for the first time on DVD on Sept. 20, through VCI Entertainment (in it’s original 2:35 Scope aspect ratio). I thought I would go back and repost what I said about it a year ago, since I think it’s a worthwhile, but largely overlooked and forgotten film that deserves to be seen.
Directed by very prolific Roy Ward Baker, the film is basically what Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner with Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy and Sidney Poitier (released six years later in 1967) might have been if it had the guts.
The film centers around an union steward in a furniture company (John Mills) who prides himself on being liberal and open minded and who oversees an integrated workforce at the factory. Though he seems to be somewhat oblivious to the racial tensions among his workers just boiling beneath the surface. When he decides to promote one of his long time black workers (Earl Cameron who is still today, at 94, a working actor) to forman, the white workers get upset and threaten to strike. Cameron, on the other hand, is reluctant to take the job fearing that it will exacerbate the already volatile racial tensions at the factory and give him nothing but grief.
But if that wasn’t enough, Mills’ daughter (Sylvia Syms) who works as a teacher, is currently involved in a romantic relationship with a fellow teacher who’s black (Johnny Sekka). Though they try to keep their relationship a secret, soon everyone finds out and Mills is forced to re-evaluate his open-mindedness. Things get pretty sticky, as you can see by the clip below, from the mother’s reaction, when she finds out. Needless to say, there was no way Hepburn was going to do a scene like this in Dinner:
But there are other problems as well. On top of the conflicts at work and at home, there’s a roving gang of ”teddy boys” terrorizing the neighborhood and harassing black residents. All this adds up to a powder keg that’s about to explode. But as the clip shows, what Streets has is a raw, edgy and perhaps honest quality to it that makes it far superior to Hollywood films of the 60′s that were dealing with racial matters, but in far too safe and easy way.
Compared to Dinner’s comfortable “Why can’t we all just get along?” homilies, Streets is bitter-tinged and uncompromising. And also unlike Dinner, there is no happy ending in Streets. Instead we get a brutal assault, and in the final scene, Mills, his family and the boyfriend are seemingly paralysed, confused and unsure of what to say or to do next.
The film is not perfect. The early scenes involving Mills and family are somewhat stolidly directed and strangely stilted, though it does get much better later on. Perhaps Baker intentionally shot the earlier scenes that way to provide a contrast to when the film becomes more dramatic and intense.
It’s still however very much a film that deserves to be seen and perhaps one of the better British films of the period.