Jennifer Linden (mesmerisingly played by Gillian Hills in her debut role) is the sarky teenage daughter of Paul Linden, a respectable businessman who plans to rebuild London into a series of tower blocks where the individual can be left alone (a Ballardian nightmare if ever there was one). His new wife, Nichole, has a past she’d prefer not to reveal. But Jennifer, whose love of bebop and rock n roll puts her at odds with her father, soon finds herself in a world of striptease and sleazy businessmen (memorably played by Christopher Lee) as she uncovers Nichole’s secret past.
Ostentatiously an exploitation film dealing with the parental fears of the time (juvenile delinquency, the influence of American culture on British youth, a generation gap between parents who had fought in WWII and the children who only knew the aftermath), retrospective viewing reveals a film that is not only deliciously fun, but also deals with themes of class, the thin veneer of respectability and disaffected youth in a way that is still poignant in 2021.
None of this would be possible without Hill's performance. A cross between Jim Stark and Veda Pierce (with a dead eyed stare that Malcom McDowell would use to great effect in A Clockwork Orange), she is the archetypal post war teenager that so scandalised Britain in the late 50’s. She rejects the material comforts of her world due to teenage nihilism (“Next week - boom! - the world goes up in smoke. And what's the score? Zero”), sees rock n’ roll as the new reason for existing (“You've got to live for the kicks. It's all you've got”) and laughs at the normal conventions of society (“Love? That's the gimmick that makes sex respectable, isn't it”) all the while being tougher than the boys (witness her playing ‘chicken’ at the rail tracks) and reveling in her youth (her stepmother is dismissed as being ancient as she’s 24) and beauty.
The generation gap is evident in one particular scene where Jennifer and her friends head into a cave for some rock n roll. Soon, they end up discussing their parents and the war. One particular character, Tony, seems to have something weighing heavily on his shoulders when he lets out that his mother was killed in the Blitz, leading to this burst of teenage angst:
Look, whatever you want to do, it’s always ‘you’re too young son.’ You want to neck in the park? Oh, go home son. HOME? With the General and his whiskey and his ‘so, those were the days’? Who wants to neck at home? Gives me the screaming ad dabs…
What we see here is the post-war teenagers struggling to latch onto something that is their own. Laden with parents just grateful to have survived, they saw post-war life and the New Towns (like Crawley and Basildon) as proof that the good times were here (and the sort of place Jennifer’s dad would like to turn London into). However, disaffected teens saw this world as (according to Mark Lilla):
...an air-conditioned nightmare in which men commuted to work (and drank too much), women puttered around the house (and popped pills) ... children in cowboy hats pretended to murder one another (transferring their hatred of their parents onto their playmates).
With the sounds of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Gene Vincent and Bill Haley making their way across the Atlantic, is it any wonder these kids latched onto it for dear life?
Notably, the film is the debut score for John Barry, who would go on to become one of the most celebrated film composers ever, with his most notable works soundtracking the James Bond franchise. Having worked with Adam Faith (who appears in the film as one of Jennifer’s friends), Barry’s soundtrack is what you’d expect from that era and it still makes you groove like a hip cat today.
Recent years have seen the film reappraised, with many noting that while the plot is rather threadbare and the dénouement is rather haphazard (although I would argue it’s in line with the ending to The Graduate), the daring dialogue, lesbian undertones (which played a part in the film’s initial trouble with the BBFC) and energetic vibe adds up to make a cult British film.
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist.