10 FEBRUARY 1961, Page 20


For Everyone's Sake

By ISABEL QUIGLY Take a Giant Step. (Odeon, Marble Arch.) —Where the Hot Wind Blows. (Ritz.) — A Breath of Scandal. (Plaza.)—Nymphettes. (Cameo-Royal.) A SAD boy's face comes on to the screen, a Negro's face in a class- room of white young- sters, with • a white teacher, looking pinched. And all through the credits (that often visually boring interval before the fun) we sec the be- ginnings of the story: classroom argument, the boy's anguished dash outside, the big cigar he takes out to smoke for comfort, his discovery by an adult, pulling busily. So, by the time he gets home, we know a good deal about him : that he's from an educated Negro family (we see the father working in a bank on the boy's way home), living in an all-white neighbour- hood, attending an all-white school.

The son of sonic people I know had a Negro boy as his closest friend when the family lived in a small New England town; and they were relieved ('for everyone's sake') that circumstances took them away from the town when the boy was about twelve: 'because it's when they start taking girls out that the trouble starts.' And that, it seems, is just the trouble with Spence, the hero of Take a Giant Step (director: Philip Leacock: 'X' certificate): not so much the silly classroom argument (would a schoolteacher really be so offensively tactless? Well . . . I remember not dissimilar sorts of offensiveness when I was at school), as the fact that his friends at school. having started to take girls out, have stopped, at the same time, going about with him. Because, as one of them explains, Marguerite's Polish father 'just doesn't like coloured people' (lust the way I don't like Poles,' snaps Spence's grandmother, 'never have and never will'--thus horribly embarrassing poor liberal Spence).

Brought up, in this amiable white district, Spence has no other friends; so when, after the row at school, he wants comfort he dashes off to the Harlem-style district of his town, to some gruelling embarrassments with coloured prosti- tutes and an amateur pick-up girl. Then home again to parents as smugly and sanctimoniously unhelpful as you could find in any colour; to family rows, with unsayable things said; and to a sort /of solution at least the solution of courage, of Spence deciding to `go on.'

It is easy, I suppose, to over-rate a film like this : one is so full of melancholy enthusiasm for a problem like Spence's, so ready to be touched, so accessible to sympathy; for a face as charming as his (Johnny Nash's). In our present society, we get lots of films on this theme : sonic, like Shadows, enlarging our understanding, some, like I Passed for White, not. Take a Giant Step is a Hecht-Hill-Lancaster film, which usually means an intelligent one; it isn't out- standing, it doesn't astound, appal, or give you a new outlook on the business of being black in a white world. The script is occasionally over- ingenuous, and the whole story seems socially shaky in presuming that Americans have no girls around till the age of seventeen, and that Spence, in his all-white neighbourhood and with his very normal impulses, wouldn't have conic up against the problem of girls more closely than at one remove through his white friends. The friends, too, are rather too obtuse and collectively ill- mannered for the sake (one feels) of the argu- ment. But it's a moving'film, it makes you care, and that's what matters, that's its artistic as well as its social function. It even, in that good old phrase, makes you think. How is a Negro to behave and feel in a white community? There are the extremes of truculence and humility. both quivering with racial feeling, and the almost un- attainable non-racial balance between the two.

The rest of the week's stuff is wild rubbish, the oddest being Jules Dassin's Where the Hot Wind Blows ('X' certificate), the goriest piece of sadistic nonsense ever concocted for such a glittering international cast. Franco-Greek- ' Italian collaboration has done wonders on the screen (in Rocco and his Brothers. for instance, a Greek mother and a French brother fit per- fectly well into the southern Italian family; and there have been plenty of other examples). But , when they all have to talk English into the bar- gain, and the words, as well as the mechanics of dubbing, are fantastically at variance W4011 what the characters seem to be up to, with their whole personality and that of the landscape and local atmosphere, then even Marcell° Mastroianni, Melina Mercouri, Pierre Brasseur. Ives Montand, all sorts of good Italian small- part actors and Lollo for good measure can't save it.

This film would be just a comic essay in hot- bloodedness if it wasn't for its monotonous violence and cruelty: cosy domestic beatings (Lollo lashed across a table, legs and arms tied at the four corners, while first her mother and sisters beat her with a strap, then her brother-in- law stretches out on top of her); knife slashing: a fat middle-aged mum paraded on the beach for her snigger-value. Dassin is responsible for script as well as direction, and a prizely fatuous one it is. Strange to think he made the charming (though i think over-rated) Never on Sunday. where the hot wind blew, but quite lightly.

Then there's Loren and Chevalier in Michael Curtiz's A Breath of Scandal (`A' certificate). galumphingly taken at several removes from Molnar; and something called Nymphenes (director: Henri Zaphiratos; 'X' certificate). which turns out to be not at all about Nabokov's little girls (though it seems he threatened to sue). but about those everlastingly ageless Parisians who may be anything between seventeen and twenty-five and appear in two and a half out of every three films to reach us from Paris,' and. as I said of Les Tricheurs, spend a positively monotonous amount of their time in bed.