2013 January 09 • Wednesday
Violent Playground is about a police officer in Liverpool who is taken off a serial arsonist case and transferred to the Juvenile Liaison division. Instead of catching criminals he's now supposed to provide support and guidance to troubled children so as to prevent their becoming criminals.
He's a hard-nosed bachelor who doesn't like kids and it takes him a while to warm up to his job. (In some ways this movie anticipates Kindergarten Cop.)
He soon becomes involved in the case of two young twins who live in a housing estate, what we call a housing project in the United States. The world around them is ruled by their older brother Johnny, an intimidating juvenile delinquent played by a pre-U.N.C.L.E. David McCallum, first seen throwing rocks at a teddy bear.
I don’t suppose anybody will be surprised when the cop's new assignment leads him back to the pyromaniac case, nor when the identity of the firebug—they say firefly—is revealed.
Rock and roll is one of the dangers menacing the young people. There's a song in which a Wanda Jackson imitator sings "I want to be rough, rough, rough / I'm gonna get tough, tough, tough" and David McCallum, looking like a proto-Ziggy Stardust, does a weird dance at a teen freak-out party that seems like some kind of nihilist ritual.
The danger of sex is represented by a couple of appearances of this girl who looks like she stepped right out of a pulp paperback cover painting.
The climax involves McCallum holding an elementary school hostage with a machine gun, threatening to kill them. He makes it clear that he is definitely not bluffing. This foreshadows movies such as If… and Dirty Harry as well as, sadly, some horrible recent real-life events.
Peter Cushing has a small role as a priest and is riveting in his few scenes.
The main reason this movie is worth watching today is for the location photography, of which there is a lot. Want to see what urban Liverpool looked like in 1958? Here it is.