Our next screening is of a film kindly provided by the director’s son, Jonathan Simmons, a frequent visitor to Classic Film Club. The first film scored by John Barry (who also composed the Bond theme, of course), At Four in the Morning (1963) was given an ‘X’ rating by the BBFC for it’s adult content but won a BAFTA for Judi Dench (most promising newcomer in her second screen role) and a Golden Leopard, the top prize at the Locarno international film festival, for its writer/director, Anthony Simmons (1922 – 2016).
In a new departure for Classic Film Club, this will be preceded by a short, 13 minute documentary by Anthony Simmons (below). Bow Bells (1953) is a study of London life that comprises a montage of images evocative of his own East End childhood – a ship gliding down the Thames, Billingsgate fish market, vistas of terraced houses, allotments, rubbish-strewn streets and gasworks. These images are cut to cockney music-hall songs and conclude with a wistful shot of a mother and child (‘played’ by our own Jonathan) bidding farewell to their breadwinner as he sets off down-river on the Thames towards the sea.
Working with cinematographers and producers associated with the documentary ‘Free Cinema Movement’, Simmons was a more optimistic socialist than the founders of Free Cinema (such as Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz, Tony Richardson etc.) who sought complete financial freedom from the established film industry. Simmons, by contrast, was content to obtain funding from wherever he could get it (including the Central Office of Information) to get his projects off the ground. Born in West Ham to market trader parents of Polish extraction, Simmons gained a law degree from the London School of Economics, but his course was interrupted by the war and, while serving in Italy, he was inspired by watching filming in the streets of Rome by directors who would later become known for neo-realism.
Like Bow Bells and other studies of the East End by Simmons, Four in the Morning also uses industrial dockland locations, but this time as a setting for a fictional story involving two couples in crisis and their connection to a body found in the Thames.
Strong performances and haunting photography are used to create an engaging, if somewhat bleak narrative in the style of what became known as ‘kitchen sink’ realism becoming popular under the influence of French New Wave films. It features some beautiful noir camera-work and a young Miss Dench (left) as the wronged wife and central mystery figure, before she abandoned the cinema for a while and returned to theatre. Joe Melia also does a fine bit of sub-Shakespearean clowning and Ann Lynn (right) provides a good support.
A decade later Simmons adapted his 1964 novel The Optimists of Nine Elms for a film featuring Peter Sellars that again used London locations to great effect. However, Simmons spent much of his career working in television, making episodes of popular series such as The Professionals (1978-82), Inspector Morse (1989) and A Touch of Frost (1992). He also directed the film Little Sweetheart (1989), a thriller starring John Hurt.