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Author: Steve Chibnall

Since his first directorial commission at Welwyn Studios in 1950, Lee Thompson has directed forty-five pictures for theatrical release, covering almost every genre of the cinema. His remarkable ability to adapt his style to suit the material has made him perhaps the most versatile director ever produced by Britain. This book intends to plot the trajectory of a unique film-maker through the typical constraints and opportunities offered by British cinema as a dominant studio system gave way to independent production in the two decades after the Second World War. Thompson was born in Bristol just before the First World War. By the time Thompson left school his ambition was to be an actor, and he joined Nottingham Repertory, making his debut in Young Woodley in 1931. Thompson's opportunity to direct a play came when he received an offer from Hollywood for the film rights to his play Murder Without Crime. His debut box (or ottoman) of tricks went out on the ABC circuit as a double bill with an American film about a GI finding romance in Europe, Four Days Leave. Although the cutting room remained sacrosanct, directors of Thompson's generation had more influence over the final cut of a picture than their predecessors. The Yellow Balloon may be frustratingly limited in its social critique, but as a piece of film making, it was rightly praised for its performances and technical proficiency.

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Steve Chibnall

. Lee Thompson’s second directorial outing, The Yellow Balloon , would reveal a good deal more of his potential. Crucial for realising this potential was the assembly of a creative team sympathetic to the director’s aims and working practices. The team that came together for The Yellow Balloon would be a key component of Lee Thompson’s success at Associated British over the next six years. Three figures were to be of

in J. Lee Thompson
Steve Chibnall

Comfort’s work in the flow of post-war film production. One might apply them equally effectively to the career of J. Lee Thompson. By the spring of 1953 it was clear that British cinema had found a film-maker who could handle the technical demands of the thriller in a cinematic rather than a purely theatrical fashion. With The Yellow Balloon , Lee Thompson had demonstrated an aptitude for visual storytelling and a flair for

in J. Lee Thompson
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Steve Chibnall

1 A comedy of errors. Dennis Price takes one drink too many and Derek Farr contemplates the poisoned chalice in MurderWithout Crime 2 Inflated claims? The poster for The Yellow Balloon (1953) tries hard to turn

in J. Lee Thompson
Steve Chibnall

Them that Trespass , he also took away with him much he had learned from Cavalcanti.’Working with him was a great experience’, Lee Thompson feels.’He was a very accomplished and clever director.’ The influential Cavalcanti style would later be evident in films like The Yellow Balloon and Yield to the Night. Themes and concerns that would later surface in films directed by J. Lee Thompson are apparent also in his first solo

in J. Lee Thompson
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Steve Chibnall

moderate. His reputation for making taut and intimate dramas about the problems of ordinary people – The Yellow Balloon (1953), The Weak and the Wicked (1954), Woman in a Dressing Gown, No Trees in the Street (1959) – predates the rise of the ‘New Wave’ school of ‘kitchen-sink’ northern realism; and his films Yield to the Night (1956) and I Aim at the Stars (1960) were of sufficient political

in J. Lee Thompson
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The postwar child in films
Philip Gillett

. Like Hue and Cry, the film confirms that the working-class gang was alive and well after the Second World War and still had dramatic mileage. It also demonstrates that the shared interests of children can transcend class. The Yellow Balloon (d. J. Lee Thompson, 1953) keeps resolutely to its working-class milieu, though again it might be questioned whether this is a child-centred adventure story which

in The British working class in postwar film
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Steve Chibnall

chases her through the shadowy church before she confronts him with the gun, ordering him to ‘stick ‘em up’, as if incorporating him into her world of play. 9 It quickly becomes apparent that Korchinsky is not a coldblooded criminal like Len in The Yellow Balloon , but is as frightened and friendless as Gillie. She sees in his social isolation a reflection of her own and, as happens with the child and the killer in

in J. Lee Thompson
Ian Mackillop and Neil Sinyard

about The Spanish Gardener , if the moral health of the country can be gauged by the way it treats its children, then the British cinema of the time was giving off some quite ambiguous signals. Films like Alexander Mackendrick’s Mandy (1952) and J. Lee Thompson’s The Yellow Balloon (1952) both convey a troubled sense of the vulnerability of children in an era of post-war demoralisation where the scars of battle are still

in British cinema of the 1950s
Steve Chibnall

his upbringing has taught him is that ‘you’ve got to be tough’. He also lacks the coolness of Wilkie’s temperament. Like Frankie in The Yellow Balloon and Gillie in Tiger Bay his eyes betray his fear, just as Wilkie’s ice-cold stare betrays the deadening effects of childhood deprivation. Tommy simply cannot ‘hack it’ as a hoodlum. In panic, he kills a shop owner and seeks sanctuary in the family

in J. Lee Thompson