Friday, 21 April 2017

The Yellow Balloon (1953)


A moment of childish jealousy leads to tragedy when twelve-year-old Frankie steals the titular yellow balloon that he had his heart set on from his friend Ronnie. Determined to get his balloon back, Ronnie chases Frankie into a large, bombed-out house but slips and falls thirty feet to his death. Hiding in the shadows and seeing it all, is Len Turner, a criminal on the run and using the ruins as a hideout from the police. He convinces the stunned Frankie that the police will arrest him with murder if they stick around and persuades Frankie to go off with him. 


Len's plan is to manipulate the young boy to do his criminal bidding and act as a decoy in a robbery on a pub he is planning - a scheme which quickly goes awry when Len murders the pub landlord. Realising that Frankie is the only witness to the crime, Len pursues the traumatised child across London to the forgotten corners of the capital's Underground, but will the police and Frankie's parents manage to save the day?


The Yellow Balloon is a strong piece of post war social realist cinema from director J Lee Thompson. With its excellent location work around a London still ravaged by the Blitz, it superbly illustrates the hardships and the poverty of a nation who were, ironically, the winners. This victory came at a cost however, and The Yellow Balloon exemplifies that world of rationing and ongoing devastation, where hard-won civilisation remains a fragile object to work at, as a survival of the fittest subculture exists beneath the everyday conventionality of just getting by and doing the right thing. And who better to discover that dangerous duplicitous underworld than a wide eyed innocent child?


The thirteen-year-old Andrew Ray is brilliant as Frankie, whose mix of naivety and vulnerability ramps up the torturous journey he undertakes across the film as he learns the valuable lesson of how actions must have consequences. In delivering this message, Thompson's studying of Hitchcock clearly pays off, as he wrings out every ounce of tension and suspense available to him.

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