Violent Playground

Violent Playground is a 1958 British film directed by Basil Dearden and starring Stanley Baker, Peter Cushing and David McCallum.[2] The film, which deals with the genre of juvenile delinquent, has an explicit social agenda. It owes much to U.S. films of a similar genre.[3]

Violent Playground
Original UK quad poster by Cliff Hirstle[1]
Directed byBasil Dearden
Produced byMichael Relph
Earl St. John (executive producer)
Written byJames Kennaway
StarringStanley Baker,
Anne Heywood,
David McCallum,
Peter Cushing,
Music byPhilip Green
CinematographyReginald H. Wyer
Reg Johnson (exteriors)
Edited byArthur Stevens
Release date
Running time
108 min.
CountryUnited Kingdom

McCallum's character, in particular, references roles played by James Dean, Marlon Brando, and especially Vic Morrow in Blackboard Jungle.[4] Rock 'n' Roll is presented as a negative influence. In a memorable scene, music appears to put the youths into a trance-like state, culminating in McCallum leading a menacing advance on Baker's character.[5]

Many of the poor working-class subjects of the film are from Liverpool's sizable Irish-descended community. Notably, there are several mixed-race and black characters, and two important characters are Chinese.[6]

Though it was said at the time by a reviewer that "Despite its Liverpool setting not a single character speaks with a Merseyside accent in the entire film", this is not strictly true as a young Freddie Starr plays a member of the gang.[7]

The tough inner-city estates are represented as a breeding ground for youth crime. The success rate of Liverpool's juvenile liaison officers is lauded in the prologue.


The film focuses on a Liverpool street gang led by Johnny Murphy (McCallum). When local Juvenile Liaison Officer Sergeant Truman (Baker) visits the Murphy household he becomes romantically involved with Johnny's sister (Anne Heywood).[8] He also finds considerable points of similarity between his previous investigations into the activities of an arsonist known as the 'Firefly' and his investigation of Johnny Murphy. Cushing plays a local priest attempting to heal the social problems of the locality. In a final sequence prescient of more recent shooting, Murphy holds a classroom full of children hostage with a machine-gun, apparently shooting one dead. The makers appear to have backed down from a murderous death toll, as both the priest and the shot child revive at the end. The Chinese boy Alexander (Michael Chow) is knocked down and completely run over by Johnny stealing and driving Alexander's and his sister Primrose's (Tsai Chin) laundry van at high speed trying to get away from the police, after being caught trying to set fire to a local hotel, in an act of 'manslaughter', but is not shot, does not survive and is pronounced dead by the police at the scene.



The film was shot on location in Gerard Gardens in Liverpool, some interior scenes were shot at Pinewood Studios,[9] and the school scenes were shot at St Mary and St Michael School, Sutton Street, Stepney, London E1.[10]

It played throughout Europe on its initial release, but failed to break into the U.S. market, where a glut of similar films was being produced. It was, however, given a U.S. release in the 1960s to cash in on both its Liverpool background, after the city became famous for being the home of The Beatles, and McCallum's global popularity in his role as Illya Kuryakin in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.[8]

Critical reception

In a contemporary review, The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote, "The screenplay is stiff and lifeless, relying on false banter and stagy recrimination scenes," with the reviewer concluding that, "It is very sad that such a wonderful opportunity to make a true to life film on such an important theme has been allowed, once again, to slip away".[11] BFI Screenonline subsequently wrote of the film, "it's hard to deny its rousing effectiveness as a high-powered melodrama".[12] TV Guide noted, "A tautly scripted effort is given a realistic bent through the atmospheric photography and the subtle handling of the children."[13]


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