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It's Great to Be Young! (1956)


Main image of It's Great to Be Young! (1956)
35mm, colour, 93 mins
Directed by Cyril Frankel
Production CompanyMarble Arch Productions
Produced byVictor Skutezky
ScreenplayTed Willis
PhotographyGilbert Taylor
Music DirectorLouis Levy

Cast: John Mills (Dingle); Cecil Parker (Headmaster Frome); Jeremy Spenser (The Angel Hill Kids Nicky); Dorothy Bromiley (The Angel Hill Kids Paulette); The Angel Hill Kids (The Children); Eleanor Summerfield (Barmaid)

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A popular music teacher has significant differences with a new, more academically-inclined headmaster.

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It's Great To Be Young! has a fair claim to be not only one of Britain's first teenage musicals but also one of the most commercially successful of any musical made in Britain during the 1950s - it proved so popular that it allegedly caused riots in Singapore. Its virtues are those of many ABPC productions of its era, from the vibrant Eastmancolor cinematography to the immaculately-selected cast and even if some of the sixth-formers are aged in their twenties, they do sound convincing as teenagers.

At the time, Jeremy Spenser was being modelled as ABPC's young leading man of choice; further down the cast list are the already close-to-ubiquitous Richard O'Sullivan and Carole Shelley, a decade before she appeared alongside Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in The Odd Couple (US, 1967). Meanwhile, Cecil Parker gives the film's most nuanced performance as a headmaster who is far more vulnerable than his austere appearance would suggest. By contrast, John Mills seems a decade too old to play Dingle, and his faintly selfish, happy-go-lucky persona is ultimately far less sympathetic than the stern but sincere Mr. Frome.

Also characteristic of ABPC were the use of very American-sounding musical numbers and a stolid director in the form of Cyril Frankel; if the film does have an auteur it is Ted Willis, who wrote a screenplay that contains more than its fair share of verbal felicities. But above all, It's Great to Be Young! was quite a revelation at a time when British films tended to characterise teenagers as little other than delinquent, as in 1952's Cosh Boy (d. Lewis Gilbert) or the same year's I Believe in You (d. Basil Dearden). In place of the monochrome vision of side-boarded cosh boys mooching among the bombsites, It's Great To Be Young! presents a vision of jolly, Welfare State-fed youth in a state grammar school where summer seems to be almost endless and where the head girl mimes to Ruby Murray singing 'You Are My First Love'. How utterly wizard!

Andrew Roberts

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Video Clips
1. The new headmaster (2:31)
2. 'Rhythm Is Our Business' (4:59)
3. We want Dingle! (2:35)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Frankel, Cyril (1921-)
Mills, John (1908-2005)