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Cosh Boy (1953)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Cosh Boy (1953)
35mm, black and white, 73 mins
Directed byLewis Gilbert
Production CompanyDaniel Angel Films
Produced byDaniel M. Angel
Screenplay byLewis Gilbert, Vernon Harris
Original playBruce Walker
PhotographyJack Asher
MusicLambert Williamson

Cast: James Kenney (Roy Walsh); Joan Collins (Rene Collins); Hermione Baddeley (Mrs Collins); Hermione Gingold (Queenie); Betty Ann Davies (Elsie Walsh); Robert Ayres (Bob Stevens)

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The brutal exploits of a delinquent youth and his gang, coshing and robbing women and finally nearly committing murder.

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Cosh Boy (d. Lewis Gilbert, 1953) takes an honest, unselfconscious look at the recently identified problem of 'juvenile delinquency', blaming it on a lack of parental control and discipline.

Roy (James Kenney) is a convincingly nasty, cigarette-smoking 16 year old: vicious, hyperactive and insecure - bullying anyone weaker than himself, particularly the slow-witted Alfie (Ian Whittaker) and the naive Rene (a young Joan Collins). The parallels with the case of Derek Bentley - the young, backward boy controversially hanged in January 1953 for the murder of a policeman, partly because his accomplice, Christopher Craig, was too young to hang - were not lost on the audience, or on the censor.

The film captures the remains of old London, before it made way for tower blocks and walkway estates. The stark and moving shots of London's bombed-out ruins show the influence of Italian neo-realist films such as Bicycle Thieves (d. Vittorio de Sica, 1948).

The film is well ahead of its time in its frank depiction of unmarried teenage sex, pregnancy and abortion: all deeply shocking in the repressive early 1950s. But it is badly spoilt by its ending, which suggests that all a boy needs is a damn good thrashing by his father and he will turn out all right. The moralising texts at beginning and end, though we might not agree with them today, are fascinating for the way they record the social attitudes of their time.

By the time of Tony Richardson's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) the rebellious youth had become working-class hero rather than menace, at least in cinema. The first British film to receive the new X certificate, Cosh Boy might be compared with Alan Clarke's masterpieces Scum (1979) and Made in Britain (ITV, tx. 10/7/1983).

Ewan Davidson

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Video Clips
1. Cosh and carry (5:04)
2. Roy and Rene (2:49)
3. Turning yellow (3:59)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
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Baddeley, Hermione (1906-86)
Collins, Joan (1933-)
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