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Cosh Boy (1953, James Kenney, Joan Collins)Cosh Boy (1953, James Kenney, Joan Collins)

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Cosh Boy (1953, James Kenney, Joan Collins)

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Gritty crime drama Cosh Boy, the first British-made film to receive an ‘X’ certificate, was heavily criticized at the time for what was regarded as its ‘sensationalist’ slant. Its forceful dramatic impact is still evident but its content is mild now in comparsion with the more ‘realistic’ approach to violence in contemporary cinema.

James Kenney is the leader of a vicious gang of teenage hoodlums who, with his right-hand man Ian Whittaker, beats up and robs an elderly drunken woman. They are brought before a juvenile court and placed on probation. Kenney uses the Youth Centre he has to join as a cover while he continues to direct the criminal activities of his gang.

They beat up prostitute Hermione Gingold but the police are unable to pin the crime on them as the Youth Centre serves as their alibi. Kenney is attracted to Whittaker’s sister Joan Collins, who he meets at the club, and he seduces her one night on a bomb site while his gang waylay and cosh her regular boyfriend. Before long, however, he tires of her. Collins, now pregnant, attempts to commit suicide after Kenney callously rejects her.

Meanwhile, after stealing his grandmothers’ savings, Kenney plans a raid on the dance hall where Robert Ayres, who plans to marry Kenney’s mother Betty Ann Davies, works as commissionaire. The raid fails after Kenney attempts to shoot Ayres. And his gang leave, refusing to stay on with him. Kenney runs home to his mother for help – and is faced by Ayres, who has married Davies that morning and tells him he is going to give Kenney the thrashing of his life. Kenney becomes terrified and hysterically pleads for mercy, trying to keep Ayres at bay with a razor. The police arrive. Kenney hopes to be arrested rather than face a thrashing – but the police tell Ayres they will return for the boy in the morning …

While some newspapers and Watch Committees (many of the latter, like Hove and Birmingham, banning the film from exhibition) condemned Cosh Boy for its alleged brutality, the usually maligned British Board of Film Censors took a more balanced view and awarded it an ‘X’ certificate after minor cuts in the scenes where Kenney brandishes a razor and wields a cosh. Even the film’s detractors were impressed by the fine performance given by Kenney, and Gilbert’s driving, no-nonsense direction made excellent use of his and Harris’s strong dialogue and hard-edged characterizations. Summed up CEA Film Report, ‘It is well done in every way, and the acting is excellent.’

production details
UK / 75 minutes / 1953

Director: Lewis Gilbert
Writers: Lewis Gilbert, Vernon Harris, from the play Master Crook by Bruce Walker,

cast
James Kenney as Roy Walsh
Joan Collins as Rene Collins
Betty Ann Davies as Elsie Walsh
Robert Ayres as Bob Stevens
Hermione Baddeley as Mrs. Collins
Hermione Gingold as Queenie
Nancy Roberts as Gran Walsh
Laurence Naismith as Inspector Donaldson
Ian Whittaker as Alfie Collins
Sid James as Desk Sergeant
Johnny Briggs as Skinny Johnson

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