mon 21/09/2020

DVD: Children's Film Foundation Bumper Box Vol 2 | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Children's Film Foundation Bumper Box Vol 2

DVD: Children's Film Foundation Bumper Box Vol 2

More buried treasure from the CFF archive: a treat for young and old alike

Reginald Marsh, under aerial attack in 'Sky Pirates'

The Children’s Film Foundation began life in 1950, its brief to provide wholesome home-grown entertainment for Saturday morning cinema audiences. Instead of westerns and cartoons, young UK filmgoers were treated to low budget short features, usually involving plucky youngsters foiling dastardly criminal plots. They were produced up until the late 1980s, the organisation living on today as the Children’s Media Foundation.

The Children’s Film Foundation began life in 1950, its brief to provide wholesome home-grown entertainment for Saturday morning cinema audiences. Instead of westerns and cartoons, young UK filmgoers were treated to low budget short features, usually involving plucky youngsters foiling dastardly criminal plots. They were produced up until the late 1980s, the organisation living on today as the Children’s Media Foundation. The BFI’s second box set of CFF features is every bit as good as the first instalment, and sifting through the nine films included here emphasises the company’s strengths. Cynics could easily organise a round of CFF Bingo, awarding themselves points whenever key elements appear. Inept cockney crooks? Disbelieving police officers? City children enjoying a rural break? Stolen jewellery? Smugglers? All those turn up here. Though one’s continually struck by how well made and fast-paced the best of these films were, the examples in this set readily transcending their minuscule budgets.

Take 1973’s The Sea Children, filmed on location in Malta and featuring four bold scuba divers discovering an undersea utopia inhabited by squeaky-voiced young boys. Clad in costumes made from foil and fuzzy felt, their beautifully realised kingdom is under threat from well-meaning terrestrial scientists. Or marvel at one of the earlier examples included, Seventy Deadly Pills, a witty, gritty 1963 West London noir where a gang of working class children unwittingly acquire a tin of potentially fatal stolen sweeties. The location filming is excellent (look at all those empty, ungentrified streets!) and there’s a winning cameo from a young Warren Mitchell. Mitchell is one of several sitcom stalwarts who pop up in this anthology, and1968’s A Ghost of a Chance includes Graham Stark, Jimmy Edwards, Terry Scott, Ronnie Barker and Bernard Cribbins, in a daft but watchable tale of ghosts foiling villainous property developers.

CFF vol 2Disc 3 contains the real treasures, 1976’s Sky Pirates ticking just about every box on the CFF checklist. Written and directed by the splendidly named Pennington Richards, it’s a delight, Reginald Marsh’s cravat-wearing twit foiled by former Spitfire pilot Bill Maynard’s youthful team of model aeroplane enthusiasts. Spot the witty reference to Hitchcock's North by Northwest near the close. And The Mine and the Minotaur, made in 1980, features a splendid array of flares, mullets and iffy footwear, its feisty protagonists up against a pair of dishonest Cornish potters driving a flash VW camper van. More serious is John Krish’s superb 1981 adaptation of Michael Morpugo’s evacuee novel Friend or Foe, an international award winner barely seen in the UK, its release coinciding with the loss of the CFF’s government grant.

Vic Pratt’s affectionate, informative sleeve essay is laugh-out-loud funny, and there are some decent extras. Three shorts from the 1950s showcase children’s lives in North Wales, the Isle of Wight and Ayrshire, And there’s Meeting John by director Jason Gurr, comprising recent interview footage with John Krish and young viewers’ responses to Friend or Foe and Out of the Darkness. The restored prints look and sound excellent: a bingeworthy treat.

@GrahamRickson

1976’s Sky Pirates ticks just about every box on the CFF checklist

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