In post-war London, a gang of kids stumble upon a code hidden in a comic book pertaining to a series of crimes across the city. When the police don’t take them seriously, they decide to take matters into their own hands and uncover the truth behind the code, the crimes and the people responsible.
The BFI restorations of classic Ealing comedies continues with Hue and Cry, or more technically starts with Hue and Cry as it is often dubbed The First of The Ealing Comedies, King of the Andals and The First Men, Lord of The Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm. Wait… wait, no that’s Robert Baratheon from ‘Game of Thrones’. All the same, Hue and Cry (more so than The Magnet which also came out as part of this restored project) has a reputation to deliver upon as the first Ealing Comedy, and as an example of showcasing developing British values in the wake of the worst global event of the 20th century, it does a fine job, what what.
Post-war London in Hue and Cry is an odd and fascinating world of juxtaposition; all the children wear suits and have jobs, reconstruction and modernity sits beside the ruins of the old city, crime is rampant and yet hardly seen, it’s a world that doesn’t belong to the Empire any more. There’s a sense that there’s a lot of local pride for Ealing and its surrounding areas, the reverence for its streets and community spirit permeates through the gang’s knowledge of their town and extremely rough-and-tumble relationships. And I don’t mean that figuratively. Some of the kids spend so much time fighting that they may as well be a dust cloud with legs and arms poking out of it. It lends the film a very comic-book-ish sort of feel, which is apt given the comic strip is the leading Maguffin of the whole piece and when put to the backdrop of a bombed-out metropolitan area adds even further to the overall subversion that the film portrays. Maybe it wasn’t intended to be as thematically contrasting as it reads now, but then again we do live in the year 2015.
As far as characterisation goes, this one is head and shoulders above The Magnet; the story never diverts too from the central criminal mystery and the child actors do an impressive job with it given that they’re child actors in the 1940s. I’m sure some of them were actually 37 at the time of shooting, and I’ll be the first to admit that many of the bit-parts dressed and looked exactly the same as each other as if they were trying to bamboozle me, not to mention that that little Scottish lad just looks like Newt from Aliens with a shorter haircut, but they were never boring. Especially that kid who just made sound-effects. Michael Winslow from Police Academy? You’ve got nothing on this kid who sounds like a seagull. NOTHING.
Plot-wise I was actually quite impressed with how many set-pieces were included in Hue and Cry as well as how neatly contained the whole criminal mystery was until the last second when, as criminal organizations always do, it came apart like a cake in the rain. And we’ll never have that recipe again. Oh no. Ahem. What I mean by that is that the mood of the film settled somewhere nicely between ‘The Goonies’ with its gang-of-young-un’s-solves-a-mystery story wrapped around the harsh, chiaroscuro lighting and increasing escalation of taking the law into one’s own hand from Fritz Lang’s ‘M’. Some shots felt copied verbatim from Lang’s masterpiece, but I’m not going to call that a criticism by any means. Naturally things don’t get quite as severe as that German film about child-murder, mental illness, and violent vigilantism, thankfully, but the same building blocks of a competent thriller are there.
While the BFI have done another fantastic job with their digital restoration of Hue and Cry, there are naturally some issues with a film about young Cockney hoodlums. There was more than one time an actor gabbled their lines so heavily I had to rewind and try to decipher what attempt at language they were using. Not even Google Translate had any idea, and that’ll just make anything up for the sake of it. I also wouldn’t brand Hue and Cry as a straight-up comedy as I would an adventure film, or a stepping-stone to get younger audiences into thrillers, albeit one with a sense of cheek and jape now and then, but a thriller nonetheless.
I have to admit, I really enjoyed Hue and Cry. It’s not quite ‘M for Kids’ or ‘The 1947 Good Old Goonie Revue’, but it has enough elements from both to make it its own, highly-watchable, individual chunk of cinema. Yes, I did just say that it incorporates features in a film 38 years it’s junior, but come on man, I just saw this film. Give me a break.