VideoVista covers rental and retail titles in all genres and movie or TV categories, with filmmaker interviews, auteur profiles, top 10 lists,
plus regular prize draws.
INDEX OF ALL REVIEWS
SEARCH THIS SITE
TOP 10 LISTS
INTERVIEWS & PROFILES
RETRO REVIEWS SECTION
ABOUT OUR CONTRIBUTORS
SUPPORT THIS SITE -
SHOP USING THESE LINKS
visit other Pigasus Press sites...
The ZONE - genre nonfiction
Soundchecks - music reviews
Rotary Action - helicopter movies
cast: Dennis Waterman, Suzy Kendall, Adrienne Posta, Maureen Lipman, and Susan George
director: Peter Collinson
119 minutes (12) 1968
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Paramount DVD Region 2
review by Andrew Darlington
The June 1979 #2 hit single Up The Junction by Squeeze - from the group's second album Cool For Cats, has no direct connection to this
film, but writers Glen Tilbrook and Chris Difford acknowledge its influence on the song's title and lyrical themes.
Up The Junction
"There's nothing new about today, only what the papers say..."
(Up The Junction by Manfred Mann)
Dennis Waterman. He's forever with us. The loveable rascal child star of BBC-TV's adaptation of Richmal Crompton's Just William of 1962, he
could later be seen as the dashing young hero opposite Christopher Lee in Hammer's horror Scars Of Dracula (1970), valiantly duelling with
the vampire on the battlements of Castle Dracula, before Lee is struck by lightning and plummets to his fiery death. But Waterman became even more
high-profile as D.S. George Carter, tough sidekick foil for John Thaw's no-nonsense Detective Inspector Jack
Regan in hard hitting cop drama The Sweeney (1975), which spun-off into
two big-screen movies in 1977 and 1978.
The universally-popular Minder (1979) softened his persona, reaching new heights of popularity as gullible easy-going Terry McCann to George
Cole's inept devious con-man Arthur Daley. He even got to "write da feem toon, sing da feem toon," and that theme-song - I Could Be So
Good For You saw him cavorting on Top Of The Pops as it peaked at #3 in November 1980. Since then he's been ageing comfortably into the
role of retired cop Gerry Standing in New Tricks (2003), with James Bolam and Amanda Redman, taking the Waterman screen-life all the way from
schoolboy to senior citizen. He's likeable, and people like him in an easy, undemanding, reliable kind of way. He knows how to work to camera, because
it's something he's always done. It's his day-job.
That he could have been something more is hinted at in Up The Junction. Here, for once, he's given the opportunity of stepping outside of
character, into something potentially different. But this film is more than that. It's also the nexus of a number of other career trajectories threading
through the 1960s. Manfred Mann wrote the score. With Manfred's beatnik-jazz guise and Mike Hugg's compositional abilities (later utilised for the
Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads TV theme), they were always more musically competent than their run of hits and chart contemporaries would
suggest. Now, as the siren blasts, and the factory slappers pour out through the gates, the Manfred's acoustic strum feeds in behind them - "through
the factory-gates they swarm, overalls like uniforms," climbing for long-shots over Battersea Bridge towards the Power Station. Vocalist Mike
D'Abo sets the scene with lyrics telling of people "drifting in the human stream... conditioned to the daily grind." Although - unusually
for Manfred's men, it didn't chart, the single edit of this theme song is one of their finest records. And the album, with its 1960s pop art design
is now highly collectible.
The Nell Dunn novel on which the screenplay is based is part of the upsurge of angry working class writing that was busy upsetting the cosy literary
complacency of the bookish establishment. After all, the 'junction' is both Clapham Junction railway station, and a more dubious slang reference to
the crotch. Although born to privileged upper-class Chelsea parents and educated at a convent, Dunn had dropped out at age 14. In 1959 - like Polly
Dean (Suzy Kendall) in her story, she'd moved to more exuberant Battersea, worked in a sweet factory, and become part of the vibrantly turbulent
community she found there. Here, the DVD sleeve blurb calls 21-year-old Polly a "well-heeled party girl who, bored with her affluent Chelsea
lifestyle, moves to the industrialised and considerably less well to-do area of Battersea."
So the film dramatises her real-life transition. From the big white house beyond the gravel drive behind the black gates, to the chauffeur, and the
Rolls Royce taking her just across the river, to "a different world entirely" as the estate agent muses. It's a "different world, love,
that's all," repeats Peter, later, in case the emphasis was missed the first time round. Why she's switching lives is never adequately spelled
out, beyond glimpses gleaned from her comments. "I know what money does to people. I know what it's like to be rich. It destroys you. It makes
you false and useless, and I don't want to be any part of it." Was her old life too safe and controlled, too hypocritical and smugly complacent,
Opposite the rail embankment the "ever-so well-spoken" Polly applies for a job. Figgins, the foreman, is played by Michael Robbins - 'Arthur'
from the On The Buses sitcom. "I've come to enquire after work," she enunciates politely. Only to be corrected, "a job."
Soon she's packing 'Pringles' chocolates, six-to-the-box. The girls wear headscarves and blue overalls. They banter raucous gossip about one girl
who's "been a scrubber all her life, that one." There's a Monkees poster on the wall. And they smoke: Edie coughing phlegm into a crumpled
handkerchief over the production-line. And they're almost poisoned by a full pack of fags found immersed at the bottom of a tea-urn. Health and safety
legislation was less stringent in those days. At break-time, apprentices play football in the yard beside the bike sheds as the girls watch and snigger.
Polly observes it all in strange wonderment, as if they're exhibits in a wildlife documentary.
Next day, in her dark trouser-suit and carrying a red suitcase, Polly comes looking for digs in an area where signs say 'No Coloured's'. With a cheap
apartment rented, she spots Dennis Waterman - as 'Pete', driving a green VW van. He works at 'The Curio', a second-hand junkshop owned by Charlie
(Alfie Bass). She doesn't want antique furniture, she wants "ordinary and plain" from his Steptoe-and-Son yard outside: £4 10s, for a sofa,
a free kitten, and a lift in his van. He's nervous as he humps her stuff into her flat. She's out of his class, literally. She tries to tip him.
Instead, he asks her out. Pete is a working-class mod with aspirations. He is what I was at the time. I recognise his every symptom. I recognise
the factory and the women who work there. For me, it was a print factory in Hull. But the reality is instantly convincing. A strange lost world, but
it's one that I was a part of. I can vouch for its authenticity. I taste it still.
It's their first date together that sets up their opposing contradiction. Polly gets her long hair cut into a bob, and buys the bright-orange miniskirt
and dangling pink earrings that she wears on the cover of the soundtrack album. He turns up in a white turtle-neck sweater, riding a mod scooter.
She doesn't want to go to his preferred choice, the West End or Kensington. Why can't they just walk? So they walk. Fires burn in the slum clearance
rubble... Tower blocks rear behind. A police siren phases by. A dog barks. She's entranced by the romance of watching twilight over the rail sidings.
He sees it differently. "Poxy little houses. Some mum in bed. Steel rods in her hair, and false teeth in her glass. Her old man snoring, he's
been out on the booze, every time a train goes by it rattles the house. The old man starts coughing. Out of bed and spit it in the pot. A kid'll
scream further down the road. Up in the morning at six, go to work, day in and day out." It's a soliloquy of some poetic power. She sees it
differently, to her it is "more real, more natural," a place where you are "free to be yourself." But no; not to him: "freedom?
You get more freedom in Wandsworth Jail," he retorts.
Later they witness a street brawl with factory girl Sylv and "my ponce of a husband," with mum and the cops wading in. Embittered, Pete
tells her "seen enough? You wanted too see life, well that's it; you've seen it." Like the Rolling Stones' socially-aware lyric to Play
With Fire, "well, you've got your diamonds and you've got your pretty clothes, and the chauffeur drives your car, you let everybody know,
but don't play with me, 'cause you're playing with fire..."
The second strand of the film is Polly's arm-in-arm friendship with two unlikely sisters, blonde Rube (Adrienne Posta), and dark-haired Sylvie McCarthy
(Maureen Lipman). She's there with them in the smokey saloon bar where Rube banters the pick-up routine with Terry.
"What'ya doing tomorrow?"
"Having a bath."
"Is it your birthday then?"
Outside, she straddles the back of his big Triumph motorcycle, asking him "are you safe?"
"Only when I'm driving," he leers. The dialogue catches the exact sniff of grit-truth. As she's dropped off outside their terraced house
she sniggers to Sylv "do you know? I've got a feeling that Terry can do anything he likes with me." When Rube passes out at work Polly
takes her home. Inevitably, she's 'up the spout', but "I'll get rid of it. I know someone up Wimbledon way." Before legal terminations
on the NHS, the only alternative was backstreet abortion. This film illustrates its full horrors. The wonderfully grotesque Hylda Baker is gin-swigging
'Winnie', who does abortions as a 'sideline' above her hardware store. She charges three-months-gone Rube £4, cash.
As her new friend endures the horrific ordeal, Polly waits outside. She wanders in the park where lovers stroll, doting fathers with kids watch the
swans glide, as the Manfred's play a pastoral This Day over the soundtrack. It's a family idyll to contrast with the squalor of Rube's situation.
When she finally emerges, eye-shadow smeared with tears, she's unable to walk. So Polly calls Peter. "What am I, ambulance or something?"
he snipes and tries to warn Polly off getting involved. But she sticks with Rube as an enraged Terry gatecrashes their terraced house protesting
"I don't want no kid of mine going down the drain!" There's a screaming match between mother and Sylv, "Stupid cow," ... "You
dirty bastard," as Rube howls out her agony. As an immersion in 'reality' it surely exceeds Polly's worst expectations, she's truly living the
nasty, brutish and short side of her proletarian idyll, but there's more to come.
Once the incident has passed, a reconciled Terry and Rube get engaged. In the middle of their celebration party, Rube decides she wants to go bowling,
and they set off in a convoy of cars and motorbikes. No helmet, Terry is hit by a truck at a crossroad. It's Peter who has the sense to ask for a
mirror to check his breathing. It's too late, he's dead. And it's Peter who comforts a distraught Polly, in bed.
For the film's final section Peter turns up in a silver sports car to take Polly for a posh weekend in Brighton. "For you, Princess, the best."
Any other girl from the manor would be well-impressed. Not Polly. Posh is exactly what she doesn't want. Posh is what she's escaping from. She's bored
by the upmarket hotel he's booked them into, and its sniffily disapproving receptionist. She'd prefer a cheap B&B with a fat landlady, and a plate
of cockles. Again, their contrasting attitudes are thrown into sharper relief. He proposes marriage. Despite her supposed "clever and class-less
and free" modernity, her response, "you'll have to get a better job. One to support us both," betrays her conventional attitudes. As
husband, he must also be provider.
His response is equally revealing. "Everyone in Battersea knows what you are. They all know you're a rich girl." So has he simply got her
marked as a meal-ticket out to the Room At The Top? "You think living in a slum and working in a factory is good for you? You're mad.
They all want what you got." No, not exactly. From their first meeting he's been fixated by her, she makes him more than a little nervous. But
part of that attraction is that she represents something better, something elevated from every other aspect of his dead-end life. He's not only drawn
to her, but to everything she represents. A motivational tangle he's probably unable to resolve himself, while - despite his upwardly-mobile pretensions
- his gender expectations remain as dully conventional as hers. He still expects her to get up and prepare a full fry-up breakfast for him as he lies
in bed reading a 'Giggle' comic-book.
In a neat summing-up finale he's pulled up for speeding by the cops. He's stolen the car he'd intended to impress her with. In a court hearing, the
contemptuous judge sentences him to six months. Naturally the court official is a family friend of Polly's 'Daddy', who allows her to visit him in
the cell. On her way out of the courtroom she passes a giggly Rube and Sylv. "That's the thing, you see," moralises Rube, "what you
don't get caught for you're entitled to." And the camera pans out over the river, just as the film began, leaving an open ambiguity. Will Polly
return to her safe Chelsea life, sadder but wiser? Is her adventure in slumming over? Or will she be there waiting for him on Pete's release? For
a moment, it's almost possible to glimpse his easy character-evolution into Minder's McCann, also an ex-con fresh from the nick. Her future
is a matter of choice. His is now more fixed than ever.
Nell Dunn's path is clearer. She used this source period drawn from her own life to fuel the raunchy and sympathetic female-focused series of short
stories that became the book that became the film. The stories - some of them trailered in The New Statesman, pass on their authentically gritty
power to, first a TV production (a Ken Loach/ Tony Garnett BBC Wednesday Play broadcast, 3rd November 1965), then this movie. Yet the film's
reception was not universally positive. Critic Alexander Walker was less than impressed. To him, "this story of the deb girl who settles into
a sleazy room to taste the uncorrupted sweetness of slum life" is "all too pat in its parade of slum-land London" (in Hollywood,
England, Harrap Books, 1974). And yes, there is an anthropological aspect to Polly's exploration of lower-class life, as though she's a tourist
stepping down into a strange culture of quaint and curious people, only to find that she's "using other people's squalid lives to sustain her
own class rebellion." But, within a context of fluid social mobility in which the earthy realities of working class life portrayed by angry
young northern writers, and personified by the eruption of Beat groups, Up The Junction is honestly autobiographical - if inevitably viewed
through celluloid's distorting lens.
While the narrative device of using Polly's trip through the underclass seems contrived, it throws the contrast into a sharper relief. If the film
lacks the monochromatic harder edge of Karel Reisz's Saturday Night And Sunday Morning (1960), from Alan Sillitoe's novel, revealing to Alexander
Walker "how swiftly social reality turns into social cliché, unless there is insight and sympathy to refresh it," that's because time
had moved on, into the late-1960s, benefiting from London's newly-swinging status. Reality itself was becoming more porous.
Later, although writing predominantly for the stage, Dunn followed Up The Junction with Ken Loach's equally forceful Poor Cow (1967),
with Carol White and Terence Stamp. Her subsequent theatre work includes Steaming (1981), which ran on Broadway and was revived in the West
End during the 1990s, while Cancer Tales (2003) was a series of monologues and dialogues written in response to her father's death. Meanwhile,
Up The Junction features a score of supporting actors with their own vital contributions - comedienne Hylda Baker, Alfie Bass, Liz Fraser, as
well as dolly-birds Suzy Kendall and Adrienne Posta. Briefly married to Dudley Moore, Kendall was Gillian, one of the sassy underperforming school
kids in teacher Sidney Poitier's classroom, alongside Lulu and Judy Geeson, in To Sir, With Love (1967), tackling racial and social issues
in a touchingly humorous way. The 1970s were less kind to her, until she (again alongside Liz Fraser and Adrienne Posta) appeared in drab sex comedy
Adventures Of A Private Eye (1977). While Posta, who also cut a series of pop singles through the 1960s, finally charted as a session-singer
on Jonathan King's 1971 hit Johnny Reggae, as the Piglets. She also rejoined Dennis Waterman as Jenny in the Minder episode All About
Scoring, Innit? (1980). Because Dennis Waterman, he's forever with us.