Hue and Cry wasn't the first film produced by England 's storied Ealing Studios, but it's among the first that established Ealing as a central producer of comedies, light dramas, moody suspense flicks, and oddball hybrids that extended from the forties to the late fifties.
Producer Michael Balcon was beginning to find the company's brand of humour by 1947, and although not a straight comedy Hue and Cry has an extremely mercurial style it does possess a recognizable lightness, mostly conveyed through Alastair Sim's mumbling, quivering, fuddy-duddy acting style, which he applies to his character in hefty dollops.
Sims' role, pulp mystery/suspense writer, Felix H. Wilkinson, is merely a supporting figure to a band of kids, youths, and young adults trying to trap the leader of a local smuggling ring, and while the kids have been compared to a crush of Our Gang and East Side Kids, they're very much the product of postwar families struggling to re-establish familial normalcy as the ruins of blitzed London are slowly being rebuilt into modern quarters which gives them more depth in place of the usual waifs trolling neighbourhoods for time-killing pranks.
Director Charles Crichton (A Fish Called Wanda) and cinematographer Douglas Slocombe (Raiders of the Lost Ark) captured London as a city in transition, with the kids' clubhouse being a ruined home on a blasted block, and family row houses often being doors away from the bricked up shells of bombed homes. As daily bus trips weave through the city, passengers are blasé towards the large empty blocks and the clamor from major construction projects.
Among his group, Joe Kirby's an average youth, but like his older buddies with or about to take a job, he's trying to figure out what to latch onto so his future in the workforce has some foothold, but to his own embarrassment, he still finds solace in the weekly comic chronicling colourful criminals created by Wilkinson; like the city, Joe's caught in a no man's land where his age, his appetite for more food, and desires for something functional is at odds with his childhood (itself ever-present because of the multi-aged friends he still meets at the ruined house).
The mystery event itself is quite clever - Joe discovers the comics are being used to send upcoming theft details to local criminals and Crichton elevated the film's tone from a mere teen film by showing some shocking brutality between the youths and the adult crooks, plus a finale that's surprisingly graphic in its depiction of cruel taunting, and the villain's ultimate comeuppance.
Like his subsequent comedies for Ealing, however, Crichton peppered scenes with slight comedic gestures that on occasion inject some ridiculousness to the concept of kids playing master detectives: when the group restrains a sexy villainess to a chaise, Joe tells them to make her talk,' and Crichton followed up with two awkward kids doing amazingly dopey things they're miming from comic books; it's a version of monkey-see, monkey-do with absurd results.
The dialogue by T.E.B. Clarke (Passport to Pimlico, The Lavender Hill Mob) is bubbly and lean, and Crichton's skills as a former editor ensure the film's pacing is very lean and brisk. Equally reflective of the film's sharp storytelling is Georges Auric's rhapsodic score, itself quite modernistic and appropriate to the visual collage of London shifting towards a new postwar era.
Clarke's script is also very contemporary in terms of the youths' organization skills that lead towards the epic capture of the city's crooks; amazingly, it feels like a classic eighties template of misunderstood and ignored kids fighting their own good fight while their daffy parents are reduced to functional stick figures, and the police sort of wade in and out of each fracas to deliver some sermonizing before wrapping up the youths' good deed to society, giving the story a kind of official closing period.
Hue and Cry is far darker, however, but Crichton and Clarke managed to nail a specific kind of nostalgia held by adults who'd wished they could've shared in one grand, dynamic adventure of mystery and excitement instead of conforming to society's wants, and starting that first full-time job which closed the chapter on childhood forever.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan