Friday, 8 March 2013

There Is Another Sun

‘There Is Another Sun’ is a nippy little b-movie set in two exciting / sleazy milieus: the travelling fair and the world of professional speedway. It’s also a complicated romance, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

‘Racer’ (Maxwell Reed) works as a rider on the fairground Wall of Death. He used to be a speedway rider, but his reckless behaviour caused an accident in which he broke both his legs and a man was killed. Laying low, he now does half a dozen shows a day, risking his life for the small change the punters throw into the ring at the end of the exhibition.

His only friend is ‘Mag’ Maguire (Laurence Harvey) an up and coming boxing booth pugilist who is thought of as a future champion by his besotted, fatherly trainer (Leslie Dwyer). Friend should really be in inverted commas as Racer doesn’t really have friends, just ambition. His only aim is to get back into speedway and, with a challenge competition coming up, he thinks his opportunity has arrived. The only issue is that he doesn’t have a proper bike, or the money to hire one, which sets in motion a chain of events that will lead to his own downfall and Mag nearly losing everything in his eagerness to help his mate. Racer will get Mag to steal for him, cover for him, hide him and tell lies for him, and Mag will go along with him every step of the way, which is where the complicated romance comes in.

It’s a love triangle in that it contains three people (there’s also Lil, a dancer who is initially attracted to Racer, but soon realises Mag is a much nicer guy) but a myriad of feelings: Racer loves Racer, unconditionally, and, more than that, he loves racing; Lil loves Mag, and Mag loves Lil but, at first, not as much as he loves Racer. I’m not suggesting that there is a homosexual theme, but Mag certainly seems to have a crush on Racer and, when asked by Lil to choose between her and his friend, he chooses Racer without any hesitation. A poor role model, Racer seems to be able to get Mag to do whatever he wants – and he knows this and uses it to his advantage again and again, little caring that Mag is jeopardising his future career and happiness to help a man whose future is all used up.

Eventually, Racer gets to compete in the big race, but only after assaulting his ex-boss and selling a stolen car to get the stake money. When Mag tells him that his ex-boss is expected to die from his injuries, Racer’s face sets in a fixed, slightly wry expression; Mag tells him to clear out, to get away, but Racer won’t hear of it “I brought a machine here to do what a machine is supposed to do”, he says, before going out to die on the track. True to form, his reckless riding causes an accident, and a following bike deals him a sickening blow to the head which kills him instantly.

The heartbroken Mag refuses to see him in death, but accepts the offer of some of his personal effects as a souvenir of his friend / first love, choosing, yes, Racer’s helmet 

Free from Racer’s bad influence, Mag returns to Lil and the two reconcile.

Star Maxwell Reed is a pretty interesting fellow who has appeared here many times before. A British matinee idol of the late forties and early fifties, Reed resembles the comedian Sean Hughes, and is a mix of Tyrone Power, Bryan Ferry and The Fonz: tall, dark, hair dripping in pomade, he’s smooth and smarmy, intense and slightly pathetic, the sort of man who turns a chair around to sit on it, who smokes because he likes the way he looks with a cigarette in his mouth, a man who would have been an early adopter of leather trousers. The ends of his sentences are mangled by a transatlantic twang, but this could simply have been his way of masking his Northern Irish accent. Reed was Joan Collins’ first husband, and Joan claims that he raped her on their first date, and that, five years later, their marriage broke down when Reed tried to sell her to a Sheik. Reed died in 1975, after several years in the US appearing in supporting roles.

Laurence Harvey is only 23 in this film, and still retains some of the chunkiness of his Slavic ancestry (in later years he would become stick thin – his preferred diet was to chew food,  but not swallow it). He’s surprisingly likeable in this although, in the boxing scenes, he obviously can’t punch for toffee and his greasy cowlick goes all over the place. Harvey was never much of an actor, but this actually helps his characterisation here: Mag is a naïf, an adolescent in the thrall of a much more devious mind, and Harvey’s blank, doughy face is the perfect screen for the viewer to project their own thoughts onto.
Another film directed by our friend Lewis Gilbert, ‘There Is Another Sun’ (also known by the more appropriate title ‘Wall Of Death’) is really pretty good, despite obvious limitations in budget. Enlivened by plenty of action (motorbikes and boxing) and some nice characterisation, I think it would have been well worth a 2d punt in 1951, if only for the entertainment value of seeing Maxwell Reed strut about.    

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