Cosh Boy [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (2nd February 2020).
The Film

"Cosh Boy" (1953)

Roy "Walshie" Walsh (played by James Kenney) is a 16 year old delinquent that frequently gets into trouble with his group of friends. After mugging an old woman with his friend Alfie (played by Ian Whittaker), they get caught by the police but put on probation as it was their first offense. Whether with friends or at home, Roy keeps his tough guy persona. Towards his single mother Elsie (played by Betty Ann Davies) he is quick tempered, and with the rest of his gang related friends he is the toughest there is. Even on probation he is not on his best behavior, still making robbery plans with his friends, as well as trying to make moves on Alfie's younger sister Rene (played by Joan Collins). But with all the mischief and illegal activity, it's only a matter of time until the law catches up with him...

Based on the play "Master Crook" by Bruce Walker, the story is of the postwar era of England when juvenile delinquency was on the rise amidst the rebuilding of the country. With many fathers giving their lives in combat and single mothers having to carry the load of being parents and workers, and when the poor and the rebellious were looking for other means rather than being told what to do, anything from petty crime to more serious offenses were coming from the youth. "Cosh Boy" reflected the changing times in attitude as it did in fashion, with the gang members having the trending "Teddy Boy" (or sometimes called Cosh Boy) fashion - dapper looking suits, ties, slick hair, and suede shoes that was mirroring the up and coming rock & roll movement.

"Cosh Boy" has a significant part in British film history, being the first British production to receive the fairly new X certificate by the BBFC, one that was reserved for adults only above 16 years of age, and at the time had been only issued to foreign films. Depicting behavior such as beating up people, forced sexual acts, taunting authority, there is barely if not any act of redeeming quality with the main character of Roy. In comparison best friend Alfie does become hesitant on many occasions, his sister and later Roy's love interest Rene is seen going from innocent yet tough feminist into an almost hypnotic spell under Roy's machismo, Roy's mother Elsie is always seen in a desperation not knowing what to do with her troubled son, and many other characters are seen with some light. Interestingly the film follows a quite unlikable lead character and somehow makes it a fascinating piece by not siding with him. In addition, there isn't a lot of depth to many of the characters. Audiences can assume that Roy's father may have died in the war but there is no concrete information on it. His mother's daily life and the people around her are given some but not a lot of time to explain their characters. The gang members are also cut and paste rather than individual characters. The character of Rene just suddenly coming into Roy's life and her sudden change of heart is not explained very well either. What exactly did she see in such an asshole of a character? But then again, many of us can say that in real life to quite a few acquaintances in questionable relationships, I'm sure.

Director Lewis Gilbert co-wrote the adaptation which did in fact tone down some of the content, such as changing the age from 15 to 16 and making sure scenes such as the mugging would be done in far shots rather than closeups, removing much of the knife sequences, and the sexual content being talked about afterwards such as the pregnancy as opposed to explicitly showing it, as such content on film would have not secured it a rating at all in the 1950s. In the eyes of viewers of the twenty-first century, the film might seem on the tame side of depicting juvenile delinquency. With anything from comedies like "Superbad" (2007), teen rebellion with "Thirteen" (2003), or facing harsh realities while growing up in "Moonlight" (2016), "Cosh Boy" will seem strangely out of place. The film was nearly banned in certain places in the UK due to the questionable content, and interestingly Gilbert had said that it may have been for "adult" audiences at the time it was made, but more than half a century later, it would be easily appropriate for a ten-year-old to watch.

The film did not have a smooth release. It was theatrically released in the UK in February of 1953, a month after the execution of 19 year old Derek Bentley, who was an accomplice to the murder of a police officer, reflecting the content seen in "Cosh Boy" with juvenile delinquents. With the trial and the execution still fresh in the public eye, it did not bode well for the distribution of "Cosh Boy". In May of that year it was released in the United States under the title of "The Slasher", which was ironic since the knifing with the main character being almost entirely deleted from the film adaptation. While the film has been available on DVD for some time on both sides of the Atlantic and a Blu-ray in America, the BFI has now given the film a lavish special edition in a Blu-ray/DVD dual format release for the UK.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray / region 2 PAL DVD set

Video

The BFI presents the film in the theatrical 1.37:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The 35mm negatives were scanned at 2K for the restoration and the results are quite pleasing. The black and white image is crisp and detailed, grain is finely visible, and framing is always stable. There are some speckles and spots still remaining with minor flickering in certain sequences, but nothing too distracting from viewing.

This is the UK version of the film running 75:22 on the Blu-ray and 72:21 on the PAL DVD.



















Audio

English LPCM 1.0 (Blu-ray)
English Dolby Digital 1.0 (DVD)

The original mono track has also been cleaned up though it has some weaknesses. For the most part, dialogue is fairly clear and easy to understand, and music and effects are fairly well balanced. On the other hand, some hiss, pops, and cracks can be heard in some sequences which were unfortunately not removed in the restoration.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the main feature in a white font.

Extras

This is a dual format release with the film and extras on the Blu-ray and repeated on a standard definition PAL DVD.


DISC ONE (Blu-ray)

US Title Sequence "The Slasher" (2:53)
The US opening sequence has the alternate title card as well as a slightly extended shot of the kids attacking the old woman. The source is from a weaker print and is a bit blurry compared to the restored main feature.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 1.0 with no subtitles

"The Ten Year Plan" 1945 short (17:04)
This short film directed by Lewis Gilbert is a public information film focusing on postwar housing concerns with rebuilding and amenities. There are some scratches and dust seen in the print as well as some hisses and pops in the audio.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 1.0 with no subtitles

"Johnny on the Run" 1953 film (68:14)
This film from the archives of the Children's Film Foundation directed by Lewis Gilbert focuses on a young adopted Polish boy running away from home to try to go back to his homeland, but ends up getting into some trouble with some burglars along the way. Many of the Children's Film Foundation films were quickly made for Saturday matinees and quality may have been iffy with direction as well as the amateur acting from the child led cast. This film on the other hand is one of the more entertaining and well constructed works, with a good sense of suspense, social concerns with racism against immigrants, and one that is full of heart. This film is also available on the "Children's Film Foundation: Runaways" DVD set from the BFI.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 1.0 with no subtitles

"Harmony Lane" 1954 short (27:12)
This musical short was directed by Lewis Gilbert in black and white in 3D, though this presentation is only in 2D. Featuring various musical acts with tap dancing, skating, juggling, ballet, as well as comedy bits, it is a great looking and great sounding short from a very clean print.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 1.0 with no subtitles

"Teddy Boys" 1956 TV special (8:23)
In this excerpt from the TV series "This Week", a young man dressed as a "Teddy Boy" is interviewed by journalist Michael Ingrams as they discuss the fashion and his life.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 1.0 with no subtitles

"Stranger in the City" 1961 short (22:21)
This short film takes the audience on a tour of London through various happenings with various people. From following some homeless men to seeing a fire eater perform on a street corner to a naughty dance at a strip club, there is quite a lot happening in the city at any time.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 1.0 with no subtitles

"Ian Whittaker: From Master Crook to Cosh Boy" 2019 interview (9:22)
In this new interview, one of the stars of "Cosh Boy" recalls about his early life and post military service, plus his role in both the stage production and the film version of "Cosh Boy".
Wanting to be an actor when he was a kid, post military service. About the stage play. About the real Bentley case that paralleled the film and hurt the film.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Image Gallery (6:36)
An automated slideshow gallery with behind the scenes stills, lobby cards, posters is presented with some jazz music accompaniment.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, Music Dolby Digital 2.0


DISC TWO (DVD)

US Title Sequence "The Slasher" (2:46)
"The Ten Year Plan" 1945 short (16:23)
"Johnny on the Run" 1953 film (65:30)
"Harmony Lane" 1954 short (26:07)
"Teddy Boys" 1956 TV special (8:03)
"Stranger in the City" 1961 short (21:28)
"Ian Whittaker: From Master Crook to Cosh Boy" 2019 interview (9:00)
Image Gallery (6:20)

The same extras are presented again in the PAL format.


Booklet
A 28 page booklet is included. The first essay is "Cosh Boy and the Hex of the X" by author Matthew Coniam which discusses about the film being the first British production given the X certificate and how it was released at an unfortunate timing. "Teds and Fashion" by film archivist Jenny Hammerton is next, focusing on the fashion aspect seen in the film. "Cosh Boy and the BBFC" by Richard Falcon talks about the controversy of the film and about the X certificate. There are full film credits, special features information, transfer information, and acknowledgements, as well as stills.


The film was previously released on Blu-ray in the United States by Kino Lorber under the US title of "The Slasher", which used the UK print for the feature and also had the US title sequence as a bonus. Other than that there were only bonus trailers for other films included, making this BFI release the clear winner in amount of content.

Packaging

This is the 40th release under the BFI's Flipside line, with the number reflected on the spine.

Overall

"Cosh Boy" does have some questionable points in the characterizations, but the impact it had on British cinema was certainly undeniable. The BFI release gives the film a great presentation with the restoration and extras including making this recommended.

The Film: B- Video: B+ Audio: B Extras: B Overall: B

 


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