Children’s Film Foundation: Bumper Box Vol 2 – Review
by Roger Crow / @RogerCrow
Ah, the Children’s Film Foundation. Just the mention summons up Saturday mornings in the 1970s, buying a bag of penny teeth-rotting sweets and settling into my local Odeon for a morning of assorted supporting offerings like Danny the Dragon and the main feature. The latter usually involved posh kids or Cockney tykes mixed up with treasure hunts, villains and random adventures.
The first first film I saw, One Hour to Zero, is sadly not on the latest bumper collection of CFF classics, aptly called Bumper Box Vol 2, but there’s enough other goodies to make viewers of a certain age misty eyed with nostalgia.
And half the joy is spotting beloved actors like Arnold Ridley, who weirdly looks older in 1963’s Wings of Mystery than he did in Dad’s Army years later. That film boasts a great score by Derek New, which offers some delicious jazz riffs and helps generate a sense of energy as the young heroes tackle bad guys. Shenanigans involving getting a rope up to the rooftop of lads in peril with the aid of a balloon is inspired stuff. The editing by Terence Twigg is fantastic, especially during the finale which involves planes, trains, automobiles… and a pigeon.Fascinating to see a young Judy Geeson as heroine Jane, as well as the Sheffield backdrops in that fab finale, from the era when Dr Who made his debut. (The film had its premiere at the ABC Sheffield trivia fans).
Writer/director Gilbert Gunn could have become a big name on the action movie circuit, so it’s a shame he didn’t get the recognition he deserves after making this gem.
Other films include a pre-Man About the House Sally Thomsett and a group of Cockney urchins involved in deadly sweet-related adventures (Seventy Deadly Pills; top image); TV stars-in-waiting Frazer Hines (pre-Dr Who) and Dennis Waterman (11 years before The Sweeney) enjoying high speed hi-jinks, and so on. Nice racing skills Dennis.
Picture quality obviously varies. The first film, Treasure at the Mill, from 1957 looks the worse for wear, but Waterman’s Go Kart Go (1963) looks like it was shot yesterday. Many of the films have been remastered by the BFI, so little wonder they look great.
Ghost of a Chance from 1968 pre-empted beloved TV shows like The Ghosts of Motley Hall, and features a wealth of showbiz royalty, including Ronnie Barker, Terry Scott, Jimmy Edwards, Patricia Hayes, Graham Stark and Bernard Cribbins. The plot: pint-sized protagonists attempt to outwit shady grown ups in a series of Home Alone-style scrapes, all with the assistance of spooky support. I’m guessing John Hughes must have seen it at some point.
The kids are pretty much overshadowed by the adults, though they all make a good job of their respective roles, even if the whole thing runs out of steam after 30 mins of the 48-min running time.
The visual effects are simple but effective and the bouncy score is pure Carry On with Swanee whistles aplenty. (The final disclaimer card about “…persons living or dead” is sadly played straight).
The Sea Children from 1973 is a mere 38 mins, but also the most expensive looking. A Malta-based fantasy adventure featuring Emmerdale’s Lesley Dunlop (stare long enough and you’ll see the resemblance). The plot involves a ‘kid’ with a trident, and elbow gauntlets which look fashioned from either seaweed or plastic. He’s actually a 300-year-old from the briny depths and initially talks like a speeded-up tape player. This sub-mariner style explorer, who looks a bit like a young David Bowie, meets a quartet of posh kids who enjoy hi-jinks while scampering around the island.
Health and safety would have probably shut the production down on day one. “Kids? Swimming underwater? No chance”. The youngsters explore the ‘kid’ from ’Atlantis’s underwater kingdom, and at times it feels like a lost ep of Space: 1999. Murray Smith’s script and David Andrews’ direction ensures there’s rarely a dull minute of this underwater Narnia-style fantasy. A real cult curio.
“Good wholesome fun”
Special features includes a lengthy interview with Simon Fisher Turner, who reflects on his ￼days as the Bowie-alike kid, Kirkal.
Sky Pirates is a fun adventure from that hot summer of 1976 involving model planes, dodgy grown ups and a bunch of kids attempting to foil their plans. Reginald Marsh (Terry and June), Bill Maynard and Jamie Foreman (EastEnders) are among the familiar faces, but it’s the dart-firing aircraft that steal the show. It goes on a bit, but it’s all good wholesome fun, even if it could have done with more plot.
The Mine and the Minotaur from 1980 is a tale of a Cockney cabbie on hols with his family, kids exploring the Cornish coast, and a stranger in a sports car who nearly kills one, and then offers them a ride, while their idiot mum thinks that’s perfectly okay.
“Feast of factoids”
And finally we have Friend or Foe from 1981, which at first sight looks like it’s from 1940 due to vintage wartime footage. Based on a book by War Horse’s Michael Morpurgo, it centres on evacuees, and features John Bardon (Jim Branning in EastEnders). A critically acclaimed gem which deserved more exposure than it received.
One of the best things about the collection is Vic Pratt’s well researched supporting booklet, which offers a feast of factoids and some superbly witty comments.
It’s all splendid stuff and a tribute to one of British cinema’s greatest production companies. For this fan, volume three cannot arrive soon enough.