The Hellions:  Comments by Keith Howes




Dear Diana,


Two nights ago, I finally settled down to watch 'The Hellions'. I have been 'off' watching anything on the small screen for some months. Don't know why: TV, video, DVD suddenly lost their appeal. Anyway, with Christmas coming I decided to return to the box, beginning with a film I had always wanted to see.


I had moderately high hopes when I noted that Larry Adler had scored the film. I loved his music for Genevieve in 1954, and gave the film-makers 10 out of 10 for employing this talented man. Oh dear! It didn't take me long to realise that Adler had written a couple of themes (incl the title song) and they were inserted in all sorts of inappropriate places in the story. Corny, tinny - like most of the film.


Again, high hopes with the opening scene: terse, pitiless and great to see Lionel Jeffries in a leading role. The atmosphere of menace the hellions engendered was credible and I was gripped.


Enter the 'goodies' in the shapes of Richard Todd, Anne Aubrey and a parade of South African actors, most of whom seemed to have been dubbed, certainly badly post-synched.


From thereon in, a series of violent acts encased in poor acting and slipshod scripting. A real torture to sit through. A spaghetti western three years before Sergio Leone, but without his sense of place and of mythic themes.


So, pretty much a time-waster...except for one person...James Booth.


It was exhilirating to see him take this tatty little film by the scruff of its scrawny neck and shake it. His every appearance was a delight, even as the character's sadism increased. Booth gave Jubal style and strength, and a heightened reality so desperately lacking elsewhere. He looked incredibly handsome, spoke beautifully and impossible to ignore. This is definitely a star whose presence gave this shoddy enterprise its only moments of quality.


So, thank you, Diana for helping to increase my respect for JB.


His final film opens here next month. I'll let you know my impressions.








Dear Keith,


Your comments on The Hellions are most interesting. You're right about the cheese factor in this movie. Sheldon Hall's comment was, "The Hellions couldn't have been worse." Yet I find myself rather fond of the film, and not just because of JB. I think the precocious little boy is a fine character. And Lionel Jeffries gives a very good performance. I especially like the scene where he's eating a chicken leg while watching the marshal's house. I also like the scene between Marty Wilde and JB in the darkened back room.









Dear Diana


Yes, I agree, three quarters heartedly, about Lionel Jeffries: has he ever given a bad performance? I only wish he had directed this farrago. As for the young boy, I was distracted by his dubbed voice (female?): I shouldn't have been: he certainly was an appealing character in the midst of such gargoyles.


Ultimately, though, James Booth was the only person in the cast to transcend the material, the only actor to take you to another place entirely. This was a real star performance. Summer 1960 he has a couple of scenes in 'The Trials of Oscar Wilde'; late 1961 he's carrying this movie! I think only Michael Caine moved so quickly and effectively from support to leading roles: and in Caine's case, true stardom. Did anyone ever queue up for a 'James Booth picture'?


No matter. In this movie, Booth is the person we watch. With delight and dread. Booth's enthusiasm is infectious, but he never loses sight of the character's unpredictability and creative viciousness. He literally captivates his audience and his victims. Bravo, Booth!


All the very best,