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Secret Place, The (1957)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Secret Place, The (1957)
35mm, black and white, 98 mins
DirectorClive Donner
Production CompanyRank Organisation
ProducerJohn Bryan
ScreenplayLinette Perry
PhotographyErnest Steward
MusicClifton Parker

Cast: Belinda Lee (Molly Wilson); Ronald Lewis (Gerry Carter); Michael Brooke (Freddie Haywood); Michael Gwynn (Stephen Waring); Geoffrey Keen (Mr Haywood); David McCallum (Mike Wilson)

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An adolescent boy is sucked into an amateur diamond heist through his love for the girl next door.

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'Hidden gem' is an overused term when applied to neglected films, but it's one that describes The Secret Place perfectly - its central premise is, after all, the concealment of stolen diamonds. But the jewels of this little-known budget thriller aren't limited to the plot. The film is a curiosity that sheds unexpected light on 1950s British cinema.

This is thanks in large part to the remarkable debut screenplay by Linette Perry, which manages to intertwine the generic conventions of the heist thriller with a simple, but poetic, moral drama. In Perry's world the secret places stretch beyond the physical - the record player, gang hideouts and derelict buildings - into the hearts of the young protagonists. Faced with opportunity and misguided by love, the characters are all confronted with their own buried selfishness.

At the centre of this dilemma is Molly Wilson, played by Belinda Lee in her first significant dramatic role. Molly deceives the lovelorn Freddie in much the same way as the criminals deceive the diamond merchant, but hers is a moral crime. Her reasons, explained but never excused by the script, lie in her relationship with Gerry Carter, fiercely embodied by Ronald Lewis. More than blind love, the film suggests that Gerry and his crime represent escape from the slums of the war-torn East End. The film's only plot digression - a scene set in a new block of modern flats - neatly illustrates the aspirations and barriers in the developing postwar Britain. It is no accident that the final showdown occurs on a building site of a similar block of flats which share the skeletal appearance of the old bombed terraces.

Perhaps a result of the large amount of debut performances - this was Clive Donner's first directorial effort and producer Anthony Perry's first job - the film shares with the contemporary Free Cinema movementan emphasis on youth and extensive location photography. The set-up at Rank allowed Donner and Perry to take control of their first project while the assigned producer, John Bryan, was managing three projects at once. The Secret Place - with its varied set-pieces, attention to atmosphere and hit-parade soundtrack - reveals a young producer-director partnership full of ideas and given free reign. Some unimaginative editing apart, the film's approach - binding an astute morality play to a tense thriller - would have held obvious attractions for the increasingly important teenage audience.

Dylan Cave

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Video Clips
1. 'For keeps' (4:03)
2. The robbery (3:51)
3. Scaffolding chase (4:04)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Bryan, John (1911-1969)
Day, Tilly (1903-1994)
Donner, Clive (1926-2010)
Lee, Belinda (1935-1961)