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Wide Boy (1952)


Main image of Wide Boy (1952)
35mm, 67 min, black & white
DirectorKen Hughes
Production CompanyMerton Park
ProducersNat Cohen
 Stuart Levy
ScreenplayWilliam Fairchild
MusicEric Spear

Cast: Sydney Tafler(Benny Mercer); Susan Shaw (Molly); Melissa Stribling (Caroline); Colin Tapley (Mannering); Ronald Howard (Chief Insp. Carson)

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Benny makes a precarious living selling black market nylons, but soon finds himself involved in blackmail.

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Wide Boy is a late edition to the post-war 'spiv' cycle, which had articulated a mood of cynicism and disillusion that counter pointed Labour's New Jerusalem. By the time the film went on the floor, the semi-comic image of the spiv was being superimposed onto a new, more violent folk devil: the cosh boy - vividly represented by Dirk Bogarde in The Blue Lamp (d. Basil Dearden, 1950). Wide Boy's anti-hero, Benny Mercer, is a man with a battered suitcase rather than a battering cosh, and a little old to be a juvenile delinquent. He seems to have been living on his wits since he was demobbed (or avoided conscription).

Sydney Tafler is natural casting as the shifty black-market entrepreneur, as is Ronald Howard (son of Leslie) as a police inspector. Tafler had specialised in shady characters since his first role in Robert Hamer's It Always Rains on Sunday (1947). Wide Boy was his fourteenth film in four years, which gives some idea of both his popularity and the pace of picture production at the time. His leading lady is Susan Shaw, who had also been the object of his attentions in Hamer's film.

Wide Boy is another cautionary tale, this time warning of the too easy escalation from pretty crime to something altogether more deadly. Benny inhabits a world of knocked-off nylons and greasy-spoon Italian cafes, but is courting a high-maintenance blonde who aspires to something more than the 'small-time' Benny offers. She has glimpsed an entirely different lifestyle, led by the clients of the 'face factory' (beauty parlour) in which she labours. Benny sets out on his disastrous attempt to milk the middle classes on her behalf as much as his own.

Director Ken Hughes displays a keen awareness of class differences and, although opportunities for character development are strictly limited by the film's brief running time, he manages to avoid caricature and sketches a series of contrasting milieus with the authenticity brought by the careful observation of detail. Hughes also takes the trouble to make sure that, while conventional morality is upheld, we retain some shred of sympathy for his wide boy.

Steve Chibnall

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Tafler, Sydney (1916-79)
Anglo-Amalgamated Productions
B Pictures