The Leather Boys (1964)
“”The Leather Boys” Begins Where the Mods, Rockers and Wild Ones Left Off…”
Director: Sidney J. Furie
Cast: Rita Tushingham, Colin Campbell, Dudley Sutton
Synopsis: An immature teenager marries a young biker but becomes disenchanted with the realities of working class marriage and her husband’s relationship with his best friend.
Dot (Rita Tushingham) and Reg (Colin Campbell) are a young working-class couple who can’t wait to get married. So keen are they to tie the knot that Reg, who works as a motor mechanic, buys Dot an engagement ring even before she has left the school classroom. Of course, their marriage is doomed from the outset, a fact emphasised by the way they both want different things from their honeymoon at Butlin’s Holiday Camp in Bognor Regis. The outgoing Dot wants to go out partying, while the more reserved Reg just wants to stay in bed with his new wife. Married life drives an even bigger wedge between them as Dot spends more time at the hairdressers and the pictures than in their one-room flat, and Reg resorts to spending more and more time at the Ace Cafe with his biker friends. It’s there that he meets the hyperactive Pete (Dudley Sutton), and the two become close friends…
The Leather Boys is a real slice of working-class life, a lesser-known product of the British New Wave which deserves greater recognition. At first, it looks as though the film will focus exclusively on the problems faced by the newly-married couple, but around the midway point, they break-up and never manage to completely get back together again thanks partly to their incompatibility, and the fact that the omnipresent Pete continually antagonises Dot whenever she and Reg get together. Most viewers will figure out pretty early on that Pete is homosexual, although apart from one hurriedly retracted query, Reg never thinks to question his new-found friend’s sexuality.
The film’s to be commended for tackling such a bold subject in the early 1960s. But there’s a kind of ‘hero in peril’ feeling about it – due to the fact that we realise what’s going on long before Reg does – that doesn’t quite sit right in today‘s more enlightened times. Homosexuality was still illegal in the UK back in the mid-1960s, so it’s perhaps understandable that the film puts this slant on the relationship between Reg and Pete, but this – and Reg’s apparent blindness to Pete’s crush on him – gives The Leather Boys a dated look.
On the plus side, the performances are all good, especially from Colin Campbell – who never seemed to realise his potential on the screen – and Dudley Sutton, a familiar face to moviegoers, who gives the character of Pete subtle nuances that skilfully shy away from the type of sinister undertones that might have weakened an otherwise fairly realistic plot. It’s a shame that Rita Tushingham’s character is so dislikeable; she’s lazy and selfish, so although, by the end of the film, Reg realises he has lost the two people closest to him, it doesn’t really feel like the kind of tragedy for which the writer appeared to be striving.
The Leather Boys is good, but its final two scenes briefly raise it to an even higher level. The scene in the pub as Reg waits for Pete to buy their tickets to America, although lapsing into contemporaneous gay stereotyping, is elevated by the way Campbell plays it. And that final wordless scene, in which Pete’s motivations are finally revealed, works so well simply because no words are spoken – or need to be.
(Reviewed 23rd February 2012)