Basial Dearden, may not be one of the bigger names of classic British Cinema but in his 30 year career, the filmmaker has created 35-films.
With each film, Dearden had an emphasis on storytelling and creating an atmosphere and character but also boldly taking on sensitive issues at the time which include racism, homophobia and middle-class malaise.
And while many may not be familiar with the filmmaker and possibly know more about his son James Dearden (director of "Fatal Attraction" and "A Kiss Before Dying"), Basil Dearden along with writer and producer Michael Relph had managed to create a good number of films which many consider today as British cinema classics but unfortunately were not as accessible on video for viewers in America.
That is until now, as The Criterion Collection will be releasing "Basil Dearden's London Underground - Eclipse Series #25', a four DVD set which include the following films: Sapphire (1959), The League of Gentlemen (1960), Victim (1961) and All Night Long (1962).
After watching Criterion Collection's "Basil Dearden's London Underground - Eclipse Series #26', I had the utmost respect for Basil Dearden's work.
Watching all four of these films, I was truly blown away because although Basil Dearden never set to become an activist, his films were so bold during a time when colored people and homosexuals had no voice. His films created a dialogue and whether or not his countrymen supported his films, he with the support of producer Michael Relph did them because they felt it was right.
"Sapphire" was a risky a film for its time. With the UK having to go through the 1958 Notting Hill Race Riots, who would expect a film to make a statement on race relations, interracial relationships, racism.
When it comes to early films that deal with interracial relationships, It was interesting to see the connection between two 1959 films, John Cassavetes "Shadows" and Basil Dearden's "Sapphire". Both dealt with interracial relationships and dealt with women who have a more Caucasian look than Black features.
While one focused on racial relationships in America, "Sapphire" was rather interesting because it dealt with racism in Britain. I'm quite familiar with cases and films that dealt with racism in America but I knew nothing about what took place in the UK, nor did I know about the 1958 Notting Hill Race Riots that influenced the making of "Sapphire".
What I enjoyed about this film is its structure but how it was bold in showing racism from normal individuals to even one of the primary police inspectors. But also seeing the reactions to those who were white and had Black friends. Also, showing a scene in which a Black man was running from a gang that was chasing him and trying to get help from white men to protect him. One calls him the "N" word and to get out, the others were a Black couple who tell them that his kind is what gives them a bad name and to see him being beaten by a gang of white youths. I suppose I was not expecting to see so much racism featured in this film but being portrayed in a way to evoke a response from its viewers.
This was a bold, progressive film for its time.
And as the film won a BAFTA for "Best Film", I was not surprised to find out that the film elicited many angry notices and that British cinema would become exclusively white for some time afterward. So, in many ways, watching this film and seeing what Dearden and Relph were able to accomplish, they knew they would create a film that would not be welcomed for many whites especially those who supported the violence that was taking place in Britain at the time.
It's important to note that yes, the film is less radical if shown to people today. In fact, some comments from younger viewers were more focused on the acting of the time. But viewers who are watching this film for the first time should put themselves in the position of a viewer back then in 1959. Violent riots towards immigrants, violence towards interracial relationships... "Sapphire" was amazingly progressive for its time and I can see its importance in classic British cinema.
Whether or not you believe this should of one "Best Film", it is an important film and worth being a notable film in Basil Dearden's oeuvre. There is no banality to this film because nothing was like it at the time. No one was daring enough to push the button and expose how bad racism was in their country. Basil Learden did.
While "The League of Gentlemen" is more of an interesting take on a heist film.
For many movie fans, when many think about a heist film with an ensemble cast, many tend to think about "Ocean's Eleven" (2001). But in 1960, as America had it's original version of "Ocean's Eleven" in theaters, the UK courtesy of Basil Deadren had "The League of Gentlemen".
While the two have similarities in that the characters are from the World War II era, the "Ocean's Eleven" films were more of a vehicle to showcase America's top talents working together and was more about the talent than its story.
With "The League of Gentlemen", these were a group of friends who owned their own production studio and have worked with filmmaker Basil Deadren in the past. And what makes this film so much more exciting is that these characters are not trying to be cool, in fact, what makes the film so enjoyable are the characters because they are flawed. They are criminals, deviants and former military officers who have been disciplined or busted for some reason but yet, they are put together by Lt. Col. Hyde who sees their skills as important to the goal of pulling off the ultimate heist.
Each character has their distinct characteristics and the way that they were written, there is good enough character development to understand these characters, their backgrounds and how they all fit into this complex group that has been formed.
While this film probably would have more of an impact on those who watched it back in 1960 in the UK and saw how Britain has changed but Dearden, never afraid to take on any controversial subjects manages to have characters that are gigolos, a con-man dressed up as a priest, a homosexual (reminding everyone that during this time, homosexuality in Britain was a crime and people used homosexuals by blackmailing them and getting payment in order to not go with threats of making their lifestyle public) and those who were quite literally con-men of the worst kind.
But these were all former soldiers who could not live in society after the war. For some, while in the military, they have done unfortunate things to their own countrymen. The life they lived after their military service was not kind to them and thus they chose to live a life of crime (or a lifestyle that was seen as deviant) or swindle someone for their money.
As for the heist, one again, very intriguing and for me it's enjoyable of how methodically, and how thorough they go through the planning phase for the actual heist. Without having to spoil too much of the story, I will say that "The League of Gentlemen" is a wonderful and enjoyable film.
"Victim" was a film that was an eye-opener!
Prior to watching "Victim", I was not aware that homosexuality was outlawed in Britain. But after watching film, I felt that the efficacy of "Victim was remarkably captured through Dirk Bogarde's performance and Dearden's direction. And what makes it things so sad, even 51-years-later, despite homosexuality not being outlawed today, many gay men and women are still bullied and continue to take their own lives.
"Victim" is yet another bold and provocative film by Basil Dearden and producer Michael Relph, but it's this film that created a nationwide discussion. Slapped with an X-rating and even in the USA, where the MPAA did not want the word "homosexual" to be used, Dearden was aware of what homosexuals were facing under this law and how 90% of all blackmail cases were about homosexuality.
At the time, one who was gay had to make a choice...pay the blackmail the money or lose everything once your outed because homosexuality was a crime and there were harsh jail sentences for breaking the law. So, many chose to take their own lives or live their lives paying their blackmailers.
There are not too many films that have an effect on society but that is what made Basil Dearden so special. He never looked at himself as an activist but he and Relph wanted to make a difference, creating a dialogue and hopefully make things right in their country and possibly create dialogue for countries that screen his films.
"Victim" is unique, non-formulaic, bold and provocative. It's a true Basil Dearden film with a touch of noir, not blatantly preachy and a fascinating timepiece of British cinema.
The final film in this DVD set is "All Night Long".
"All Night Long" is another take on an interracial relationship between a Black man and white woman.
In "Sapphire", we had a chance to see the reverse with a half white and half Black woman who looks more like the former and was killed possibly because of her race. "All Night Long" is different because it's a film that revolves around jazz music and among the listeners of jazz are a mixed group who don't mind interracial relationships. These people love the music, they love hanging out and partying together. A much different contrast to Dearden's 1959 film.
Based on Shakespeare's "Othello", because the film is a London-based production despite being written by Americans and because of that, they were able to create a film that seemed like an American film and not having to worry about the Hayes Code. This kind of film would never be made in Hollywood. For one, you have an interracial couple, you have people at the party experimenting with drugs, you have violence towards a woman and thus the film manages to maintain a feel of reality without having to be burdened with censorship.
Once again, this is a bold and provocative film at that time. Considering how strict Hollywood was with showing any interracial relationship, drug paraphernalia, even for the UK, as the 1958 Notting Hill Race Riot was ignited because of how white youths were upset between seeing a white woman and her Jamaican husband arguing. I don't know how British audiences felt about the film but "All Night Long" still remains one of the highlights of Basil Dearden's oeuvre.
Overall, "Basil Dearden's London Underground" is a fantastic DVD box set. These films still have relevance today and although we have made strides with the acceptance of integration vs. desegregation of people of different race and more and more support for homosexuals, there is still much work to do as hate still exists.
What Basil Deadren was able to bring to British cinema during the roughest times in not just in the UK but in the world, watching these films today, I was not only amazed and taken back, but I feel proud to have watched cinema that absolutely moved me.
"Basil Dearden's London Underground - Eclipse Series #25' from the Criterion Collection is highly recommended!