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Boy Who Turned Yellow, The (1972)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Boy Who Turned Yellow, The (1972)
35mm,55 minutes, colour
DirectorMichael Powell
Production CompanyRoger Cherrill
ScreenplayEmeric Pressburger
Original StoryEmeric Pressburger
PhotographyChristopher Challis
EditorPeter Boita
Art DirectorBernard Sarron

Cast: Mark Dightam (John); Robert Eddison (Nick); Helen Weir (Mrs Saunders); Brian Worth (Mr Saunders); Esmond Knight (doctor)

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John turns yellow one day while travelling on the Underground, then meets a yellow man who travels via electricity and might just be able to help John rescue his lost mouse from the Tower of London.

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The last completed work by Powell and Pressburger comes across as something like a colourful and inventive schools programme that tells an entertaining story in order to get across simple lessons in the science of electricity. Adult viewers of this children's feature might expect subtextual messages among the eccentricity, but try as one might to find coded messages about TV-addicted youngsters or the monarchy, perhaps it really is just the story of a boy who loses his pet mouse in the Tower of London and learns some science while in a dream. The strongest clue of its place in the whimsical tradition is the name of the missing mouse - Alice - even if the film lacks Lewis Carroll's satirical edge.

The Archers (aided by their faithful cinematographer Christopher Challis) couldn't hope to achieve their customary visual spectacle on a miserly Children's Film Foundation budget, but the sight of an entirely yellow tube train coming into a station is memorable. Elsewhere, the team are left to struggle with rudimentary lighting and, often, live sound recording. The editing is far crisper than expected of a CFF feature, however, and there are brief, if sometimes unfathomable, visual conceits and jokes. Beefeaters seen enjoying beef sandwiches is a good, obvious one, but the meaning - if there is one - of the sequence in which John writes down the prospective wages of an underground driver is more obscure.

More directly educational than perhaps any other CFF film, it's also one of the most entertaining, eschewing dialogue and plot for visuals. This probably accounts for its popularity with the wide age range of CFF audiences who voted it a 'Chiffy' winner several times. Apparent disagreements with the CFF board, however, would mean that Powell and Pressburger produced no further CFF films.

Shown on television over Christmas 1984, as the first CFF feature to be presented by the BBC, The Boy Who Turned Yellow remains a well remembered entry that also helped launch a new generation of armchair-bound CFF enthusiasts.

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
1. Turned yellow (3:12)
2. Meeting Nick (5:17)
3. It was all a dream (4:22)
Production stills
Challis, Christopher (1919-)
Knight, Esmond (1906-1987)
Powell, Michael (1905-1990)
Pressburger, Emeric (1902-1988)
CFF: An Introduction