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Angry Silence, The (1960)


Main image of Angry Silence, The (1960)
35mm, black and white, 95 mins
DirectorGuy Green
Production CompanyBeaver Films
ProducersRichard Attenborough
 Bryan Forbes
ScreenplayBryan Forbes
StoryRichard Gregson
 Michael Craig
CinematographyArthur Ibbetson

Cast: Richard Attenborough (Tom Curtis); Pier Angeli (Anna Curtis); Michael Craig (Joe Wallace); Bernard Lee (Bert Connolly); Alfred Burke (Phil Travers); Brian Bedford (Eddie Barnett); Geoffrey Keen (Davis)

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When factory worker Tom Curtis, married with two kids and another on the way, refuses to support an unofficial strike, he finds himself shunned by his colleagues - and even his best friend.

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Richard Attenborough had been a memorably noxious capitalist in I'm All Right, Jack (1959), the Boulting Brothers' plague-on-both-your-houses satire of labour relations; a year later, he found himself on the other side of the management/worker divide in this engrossing, if somewhat hysterical, account of workplace conflict.

Written and co-produced (with Attenborough) by Bryan Forbes as the first release of his production venture, Beaver Films, the film has more than a touch of On the Waterfront (US, 1954) about it, notably in the factory gates denouement. But the milieu is distinctly British, with the flavour of the emerging British New Wave, sharing its Northern industrial landscape with the likes of Karel Reisz's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, released later the same year.

The film's evocation of turn-of-the-1960s working-class life remains its strongest suit, particularly in the scenes on the factory floor (which, as Sight and Sound's Penelope Houston commented, "looks like a place where something might really get made") and in the claustrophobic top-floor flat shared by Tom (Attenborough), his Italian wife Anna (Pier Angeli), their two kids and the lodger, the perpetually fence-sitting Joe (Michael Craig - also co-credited for the original story). Both Attenborough and Angeli bring real dignity to their roles, and their bewilderment in the face of Tom's unfair treatment at the hands of his colleagues is affecting.

The film's politics, however, are less convincing. The script tries hard to inject some balance, making clear that the industrial action lacks official union support, and demonstrating that the attitude of the factory manager Martindale (Laurence Naismith) is every bit as callous and unprincipled as that of shop steward Connolly (Bernard Lee). But Forbes chooses not to make the workers' concerns clear - the only demand we hear is for more toilet roll - with the effect that we are unable to determine the justice of their grievances. Similarly, we are left entirely in the dark about the deeper motivations of either Alfred Burke's shady agent provocateur, Travers, or his unseen London cohorts. Most troubling is the film's representation of Curtis's fellow workers, who appear as little more than sheep, readily manipulated by the none-too-bright Connolly, who is in turn the puppet of the altogether shrewder Travers. The result is an unbalanced and ultimately unsatisfying film, though one which remains fascinating for the way it signals the growing anti-union paranoia of the following two decades.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. Domestic troubles (2:00)
2. The shutdown (1:37)
3. Strike-breaker (1:11)
4. The pariah (1:54)
5. Innocent victims (3:10)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
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