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  1. #1
    Senior Member Country: England darrenburnfan's Avatar
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    I first saw Sammy Going South at the cinema when it was a new film and thought it was the best British film of the year. Set in 1956, it tells the story of a ten years old Engish boy living in Port Said, Egypt, Sammy Hartland, who's parents are killed in the first British air raid of the ill fated Suez Crisis of that year. Alone, heartbroken, on foot and with only a toy compass to guide him, Sammy sets off to find his dimly recalled Aunt Jane who lives five thousand miles away in Durban, South Africa. It still fascinates me, perhaps because Fergus McClelland, who played the title role, looked a lot like me at the age of eleven and there is a lot of the ten years old me in the ten years old Sammy. Filmed in CinemaScope and Eastman Colour in 1962 on sun-drenched location in Africa and at Shepperton Studios in England, it was chosen as The Royal Performance Film of 1963 and premiered at the Odeon, Leicester Square, London, on Monday, March 18th of 1963, in the presence of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.



    Unfortunately for American audiences, however, they never got to see the complete film of Sammy Going South. The original running time of the release print was 130 minutes. But I believe this was cut to 84 minutes for US release, as well as the title being changed to A Boy Ten Feet Tall and US release held back for two years until 1965. The extensive cuts in the US version meant that the original music score by Tristram Cary had to be removed and replaced with another score by Les Baxter. The longest print available at the moment is the 119 minute print that’s been run a few times in the UK on Channel 4 television (this equates to 114 minutes at a PAL television running speed of 25 frames per second). Which means there’s still around eleven minutes missing somewhere. Still, it’s a vast improvement on what the American audiences would have seen.



    The actual history of the making of the film is a very troubled one. Executive Producer Michael Balcon saw the story as a Disney-fied and heartwarming tale of a ten years old innocent boy’s triumph over adversity, set against the fantastic CinemaScope and Eastman Colour scenery of the African continent. However, the film’s director, Alexander Mackendrick, had an entirely different understanding of the story and his understanding of it was altogether darker: He saw it as “the inward odyssey of a deeply disturbed child, who destroys everybody he comes up against”.



    Mackendrick, to his credit (and after all, Balcon was paying his wages), tried his best to compromise with these two contrasting interpretations and this is probably the reason why Sammy Going South turned out not to be quite the classic film it should have been and the complete cutting of three key scenes vital to the narrative and the heavy cutting of a fourth scene, undermined the film considerably.



    The first scene to be entirely cut from the film showed the reason why, after the British air raid on Suez that killed Sammy’s parents, his Egyptian friend Mahmoud suddenly turns on Sammy. Mahmoud’s father worked at the apartment block where Sammy’s parents lived and he, also, was killed in the bombing. Distraught with grief, Mahmoud takes his anger out on Sammy, who, to Mahmoud, represents the British who killed his father.



    The second scene to be cut showed Sammy, after being attacked and chased by Mahmoud, taking shelter in the office where his father worked, which is now deserted and wrecked, with the words BRITISH GO HOME scrawled on the walls and dirt smeared over the Queen’s portrait. This scene would have established that Sammy felt himself to be totally abandoned by his own people.



    The third scene to be entirely cut from the film was a very disturbing one, but crucial to the narrative. In it, Sammy, wandering aimlessly along a beach near Suez, finds the beach alive with crabs. Sammy devises a game. He is the bomber and the crabs are people and, in an attitude of “why should you still be alive when my mummy and daddy are dead?”, he bombed the crabs with stones, littering the beach with cracked shells oozing yellow body substance amongst aimlessly twitching legs and claws. He made roaring sounds representing the RAF bombers and ran with arms stretched out in a long shadow over the carnage of this small “battlefield.” Then, with hatred in his eyes and having cornered a crab against a rock like a cat playing with a mouse, Sammy stands over it and smashes it violently with a stone, shouting: “I am God! That’s what God did to my mummy and daddy!”…and falls to his knees with his hands over his face and sobs bitterly. MacKendrick saw this as the key scene in the film, that showed just what a little killer-monster Sammy had become. “You can gather what I felt when that scene went”, said MacKendrick later.



    The fourth scene to be cut was ordered by the British Board of Film Censors to be either cut entirely, or heavily toned down. The producers were after a “U” certificate for the film and so had to comply. It involved the Syrian peddler who comes across Sammy laying on a sand dune in the middle of the Egyptian desert. The Syrian was sexually attracted to Sammy and was shown lusting after him and trying to have his way with him. After all, alone in the middle of the desert with a ten year old orphaned English boy…who would ever know what he did with him…or even care? However, two small parts of the supposedly cut scenes did make it to the final release print. In one, the Syrian is kneeling before the standing Sammy and is quite plainly and excitedly oggling the front of Sammy’s khaki bush shorts, his desire and imagination running wild, before grabbing hold of Sammy’s right wrist and trying to drag the boy down onto the sand with him, while Sammy tries to wriggle free from his grasp. The impression is given that Sammy knows what the Syrian wants them to do together, but that he isn’t game for it. Later on, the Syrian, gazing longingly at Sammy, holds the end of a headdress across the lower half of Sammy’s face and says something to him softly in Arabic, at which point Sammy shouts at him and runs off. This scene would have made little sense to the viewer unless they could have seen the scenes that preceded it and which, of course, were cut from the film. To even have filmed such scenes involving a man and a ten years old boy, let alone hope to have them passed by the censor as far back as 1962 – 1963, was brave and daring in the extreme. It’s debatable whether such scenes would be passed by the censor even today.



    Later still, after the Syrian has died following an explosion when Sammy accidentally put the wrong kind of stones on the camp fire, Sammy callously steals the Syrian’s wallet full of money from his corpse and continues his journey south on one of the Syrian’s donkeys. Disney-fied, this film definitely isn’t! But such scenes plainly show the character of Sammy and the effect on the little boy that the loss of his home and his parents had had on him that MacKendrick was trying to put across.



    However, even with all this cutting of the film, Fergus McClelland’s excellent performance still comes through. He was an eleven years old pupil at Holland Park Comprehensive School in London in early 1962 when he was chosen, from hundreds of other boys, to play Sammy.



    Mackendrick thought that Fergus was perfect for the role. “He was a lean, hard, little boy. Tough as old nails…a really strong character”, said Mackendrick. “He had the hunted look of an abused child, which in some ways he was. He came from a disturbed home; his parents were getting divorced and there were problems. So he was the perfect casting. But when he went out to Africa, he started having the time of his life. The unit adored him and, to my dismay, started to feed him…he put on weight and there was no way I could stop it. So, instead of this hunted and abused child, who’s supposed to be starving and neurotic, you had a sturdy, stocky, well fed little character. A good actor, but the physique betrayed itself.”



    Throughout his five thousand mile journey from Port Said to Durban, Sammy meets many different types of people…some who want to molest him, or use him, or exploit him, so that by the time he meets someone like the diamond smuggler Cocky Wainwright, wonderfully played by Edward G. Robinson, who only wants to help him, Sammy is still withdrawn and untrusting. But he and Cocky get on wonderfully together and a very touching moment in the film occurs when Sammy, now finally trusting Cocky, asks him if he can stay with him forever and Cocky replies that he can. Cocky and his band have now become his new family and Cocky’s home Sammy’s new home and, for the first time since Port Said, he is happy. Later on, when the police find Cocky’s camp and pull it down as Cocky and his band escape into the bush, Sammy returns to sleep in the ruins and, crying, realises that he has lost his home and his family for the second time and, after all he has been through, he is right back where he started.



    It was not an easy film to make by any means. There were casualties among the cast and crew, including two crew members being bitten by poisonous snakes and Edward G. Robinson suffering a near fatal heart attack. However, it seems that just like his character Sammy, Fergus McClelland came through it all without a scratch. Beginner’s Luck, perhaps.



    I would love to see this film restored to its original glory on a widescreen DVD, with all its cut scenes reinstated. Whether that will ever happen, though, I have no idea. It was released in pre-cert days on a PAL VHS video in a truncated pan and scan version that robbed the film of a lot of its visual beauty. Luckily, I have it on video recorded off Channel 4 in 16 x 9 wide screen some years ago, which I’ve since copied to DVD. But the film deserves a proper DVD release in 2.35:1 CinemaScope.

  2. #2
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    Very interesting discussion of this film, which I saw when it was released in 1963. It must have had good reviews, because the first night I drove over to see it, there was a line encircling the theatre. I decided to catch an afternoon showing. I liked the boy in the film and particularly Edward G. Robinson. It must have been one of his last films.



    I didn't realize so much had been cut, even though I had previously read the book. I'm glad they cut the part about the crabs, because I don't like even simulated violence against animals. The actual shooting of the elephant in King Solomon's Mines with Stewart Granger ruined the film for me.



    Anyway, a nice synopsis of A Boy Ten Feet Tall/Sammy Going South.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Country: England darrenburnfan's Avatar
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    Thanks, Gary. I hope you got to see the 130 minute version. I've never seen the hugely cut 84 minute US version, but my guess is that Paramount, who distributed the film in the US, cut out most of the first half, so that Edward G. Robinson would appear in the first few minutes...totally ruining the narrative in the process.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Country: England darrenburnfan's Avatar
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    I've just been doing a bit of checking up on the IMDb (which is not renowned for its total accuracy and for being up to date) and it appears that only four members of the cast of Sammy Going South are still alive and it's doubtful about three of those, so any commentary on a DVD of the film could only be done Fergus McClelland, now aged 58 (59 in September). I know he's still alive, because I've been in touch with him.



    None of the crew seem to be still alive, so they can't contribute to a commentary. Executive producer Sir Michael Balcon is gone, so is director Alexander Mackendrick and Director of Photography Erwin Hillier, along with composer Tristram Cary and, as far as I know, producer Hal Mason. So it looks like, with Fergus soon to be pushing 60, someone had better do something about a DVD release pretty soon. Perhaps Odeon, who have issued old Bryanston / BLC films before, or the BFI, should tackle it.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    I saw it as a very young boy when it was released in New York and it haunted me for months. I didn't sleep for a full week. There is a quality of true terror and loss in it that is found in few films and can be overwhelming for a child; the Suez sequence at the beginning is still clear to me more than forty years later. I can still see the scenes with Edward G. Robinson in my mind.



    Only Thomasina, about a reincarnated cat, had that same quality of fear and loss, and also haunted me - but this was much more intense.

  6. #6
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    I do remember Mahmoud turning on Sammy, but nothing about the reason why. Also, the pedophile Arab and the rock bursting--nothing about the crabs, however. I not only remember the film but the actual crisis--I was in high school. The Suez affair came up about the same time as the Hungarian revolt and John Foster Dulles was supposedly 'chagrined' at the British/French/and Israelis because they diverted his attention away from Hungary--not that he could have done anything about that either.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Country: England darrenburnfan's Avatar
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    I agree that although a little boy was the main character, it could hardly be described as a children's film in the sense of what Walt Disney was making at that time. The early scenes of Mahmoud turning on Sammy and hitting him violently and knocking him to the ground and shouting: "Yes, I'll look after you, you little English bastard!" are not exactly Disneyesque. Likewise, the very disturbing scene preceding it where Sammy is crying out for his dead mother and the extreme close-up of the stunned look in his eyes as he silently watches her body being put on the truck and driven away. Up until then, I don't think that there had ever been such an extreme close-up in a CinemaScope film. It just hadn't been done mainly for technical reasons. But Mackendrick obviously managed it here.



    When the film was being made, the Suez crisis was less than six years ago and naturally, the Egyptian government wouldn't let a film on such a still very sensitive subject be shot by a British film company in Port Said. So Mackendick shot the Port Said scenes in Mombasa instead.



    I think that the Syrian's scenes with Sammy should have been left in, because it would have shown that the dangers Sammy faced on his long trek were from more than lions and snakes. Besides, by today's standards, the attempted seduction scenes would probably have been more hinted at than explicit.



    I think that Mackendrick was going all out for realism in this picture and we can only guess how it would have turned out had he been given a free hand by Balcon to make it as he wanted to.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    I agree that although a little boy was the main character, it could hardly be described as a children's film in the sense of what Walt Disney was making at that time. The early scenes of Mahmoud turning on Sammy and hitting him violently and knocking him to the ground and shouting: "Yes, I'll look after you, you little English bastard!" are not exactly Disneyesque. Likewise, the very disturbing scene preceding it where Sammy is crying out for his dead mother and the extreme close-up of the stunned look in his eyes as he silently watches her body being put on the truck and driven away. Up until then, I don't think that there had ever been such an extreme close-up in a CinemaScope film. It just hadn't been done mainly for technical reasons. But Mackendrick obviously managed it here.
    Oh, yes - no wonder I couldn't sleep.



    The death of the parents is extremely well done and all the more effective for that. I felt as if I disappeared into the character. That only happened on one other occasion for me: the US film Ordinary People.



    Those close-ups you mention remain a vivid memory. The film is so well done that I am surprised that it there is so little knowledge of it now.



    When the film was being made, the Suez crisis was less than six years ago and naturally, the Egyptian government wouldn't let a film on such a still very sensitive subject be shot by a British film company in Port Said. So Mackendick shot the Port Said scenes in Mombasa instead.



    I think that the Syrian's scenes with Sammy should have been left in, because it would have shown that the dangers Sammy faced on his long trek were from more than lions and snakes. Besides, by today's standards, the attempted seduction scenes would probably have been more hinted at than explicit.



    I think that Mackendrick was going all out for realism in this picture and we can only guess how it would have turned out had he been given a free hand by Balcon to make it as he wanted to.
    That film resulted in my interest in the history of the British empire and over the next few years I started to collect maps and read about the events surrounding Suez. I really didn't understand why the parents were killed and why the British were hated and why Sammy had to travel so far. I began reading what I could find shortly after.



    I agree that the realism and detail were necessary as the story does not make sense apart from the setting.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Country: England darrenburnfan's Avatar
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    Thanks, Tim, I've had a good look and the "full length" one they have is only 112 minutes, which is two minutes shorter than the one I taped off air off Channel 4 when they last screened it seven years ago. $40 seems a lot to pay for a film that's incomplete. What's really needed is a restored 130 minute version. Until then, my DVD of the Channel 4 screening will have to do me.



    I just ran the beginning of the film and what Mahmoud actually shouts at Sammy as he's knocking him to the ground is "Yes, I'll look after you, you filthy English pig!" What a way to treat a ten years old boy immediately after the death of the boy's parents!



    I'm not surprised that people have vacant looks when you mention the film. There must be plenty of members on here who have never seen it and, unless a film, no matter how good it is, is repeatedly shown on television, modern viewers will remain completely unaware of it.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    Thanks, Tim, I've had a good look and the "full length" one they have is only 112 minutes, which is two minutes shorter than the one I taped off air off Channel 4 when they last screened it seven years ago. $40 seems a lot to pay for a film that's incomplete. What's really needed is a restored 130 minute version. Until then, my DVD of the Channel 4 screening will have to do me.
    That's helpful - thanks: I wouldn't have known otherwise. So many of Mackendrick's other films are on DVD. Hopefully this will follow. I have been looking for it for years. In fact, the search for it brought me to this forum.



    I just ran the beginning of the film and what Mahmoud actually shouts at Sammy as he's knocking him to the ground is "Yes, I'll look after you, you filthy English pig!" What a way to treat a ten years old boy immediately after the death of the boy's parents!
    It is actually shocking. Some of the story reminds me of Empire of the Sun, which has a similar theme but was less effective.



    I'm not surprised that people have vacant looks when you mention the film. There must be plenty of members on here who have never seen it and, unless a film, no matter how good it is, is repeatedly shown on television, modern viewers will remain completely unaware of it.
    Perhaps a quality DVD release might change that.



    A Matter of Life and Death is much better known and an acknowledged classic, but it has only been available on DVD here in the US since January. The local bookstore has not been able to keep it in stock and that is in the middle of a deep recession; I know a woman who works there and she mentioned how popular it is.



    Good news about a film can travel quickly.

  11. #11
    Senior Member Country: England darrenburnfan's Avatar
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    In the years before his death, I corresponded with composer Tristram Cary in Australia, who did the score for Sammy Going South. He was a very kind and generous man and he even sent me a copy of a CD in his private collection of his Sammy Going South score, recorded at Shepperton, if I remember correctly and which had been transferred from the original recording session tapes, complete with Tristram talking to the orchestra before they struck up and him saying thank you to them at the end of each take. A real piece of film history which I will treasure always.



    He told me that a soundtrack LP was planned and the tapes were sent to Decca, but nothing came of the plans. However, a 45 rpm Decca single of Fergus McClelland singing Sammy Going South...a song that wasn't included in the film, but was done to promote it...was planned for a March 18th release to coincide with the film's Royal Film Performance premiere at the Odeon, Leicester Square, so that copies of it could be sold in the foyer before and after the film. Unfortunately, for reasons now lost in the mists of time, Decca didn't release the single (F.11643) until April, 1963, so that put paid to those plans. The single must be very rare by now, but I am lucky to have a Decca demo copy of it in excellent condition and that must be even rarer than the regular release pressing. Apparently, the single was a big hit in Japan, where it was released on the London label.



    Lastly, has anyone got a copy of the Daily Cinema or Kine Weekly trade magazines from late March - early April, 1963, that may have a page or two of photos of the premiere, with Fergus McClelland being presented to the Queen Mother, that they could perhaps scan and send to me in an email? I promised Fergus I would try to track one down for him.

  12. #12
    Senior Member Country: UK Freddy's Avatar
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    Many thanks to darren and Tim for all the details which I was unaware of. This was one of the first films I saw as a child. The last time I saw it was on C4.



    Freddy

  13. #13
    Senior Member Country: England darrenburnfan's Avatar
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    Thanks, Freddy. Like many people, I can't understand why this classic film has never been released on DVD. I can only assume that there may be copyright difficulties preventing a release. It hasn't been run on Channel 4 since Thursday afternoon, September 6th, 2001, nearly eight years ago. It would be nice if they'd show it on Film 4, so that I could do a nice digital recording of it straight onto DVD, which would replace my old analogue recorded off air video of it. Better still, it should be restored and digitally remastered on a 2.35:1 DVD release.

  14. #14
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    Many thanks to darren and Tim for all the details which I was unaware of. This was one of the first films I saw as a child. The last time I saw it was on C4.



    Freddy
    It has been interesting to me to read the comments here about a film that I have rarely heard anyone else mention. It seems to have a powerful and lasting effect on those who saw it at a very young age.



    It was also one of my first fllms.

  15. #15
    Senior Member Country: England darrenburnfan's Avatar
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    I've just seen on another website a television programme listing for Christmas, 1970 and Sammy Going South is on BBC 2 starting at 1 pm and finishing at 3:25 pm on Christmas Day. This was most probably the film's television premiere and is almost certainly the 114 minutes version run in later years on Channel 4. So I wonder why, between 1963 and 1970, the film was cut from 130 minutes to 119 minutes (114 at PAL running speed) and why it was done. This means that the complete original release print hasn't been seen since its original release in 1963. The BBC didn't and still don't cut films to fit certain time slots as the other channels do, so this seems very odd.

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    I saw the film as 13 year old, just 6 months after a holiday to Egypt and completely caught up in the plot scared me to think my family were daft to go to such a dangerous country. I've never been aware of any of its channel 4 showings and missed them, so would love to see it released on DVD too.



    We stayed at many of the places used for its locations in upper Egypt and the lack of detail and continuity started me off as an armchair critic. Sammy awoke to find himself by the Colossi of Memnon statues, walked down road to next scene in centre of Luxor; these two places are on opposite banks of the Nile and there was no bridge then. We stayed at the big hotel on the Luxor corniche, but only the facade was filmed, interior not same place may well have been Shepperton set. Catches steamer (same one as we travelled on) upriver, how Aswan dam was passed when there are no locks was conveniently not covered; even today the steamers are only boarded upstream of the dam. Temples at Abu Simbel were passed with steamer going in downstream direction when he was supposed to be going upstream. Actually from my memory that footage gives excellent views of that temple complex before it was moved due to the later creation of Lake Nasser. That's just for upper Egypt, I'm sure the rest of his African travels were also filled with plenty more directorial inconsistences.

  17. #17
    Senior Member Country: England darrenburnfan's Avatar
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    Well, I've never been to Egypt, or anywhere else outside England, so I wouldn't have noticed the location inconsistencies. But I as far as I know, no footage of Fergus McClelland was actually shot in Egypt, as the Egyptian government wouldn't allow the film company to make the film there. So filming in Egypt was done in secret by a second unit, using a local boy dressed up to look like Sammy in long shots. The 35mm CinemaScope colour film negative was then smuggled through Egyptian customs. The close ups of Sammy were filmed in Africa and the long shots of him approaching the big stone monuments were filmed in Egypt.



    I can't remember seeing the temple of Abu Simbel in the film at all. The boat trip was probably filmed in Uganda, as, apart from Sammy, only black people can be seen on the shore and on the boat, which passes a lot of wild life on the river bank, such as crocodiles and elephants.



    Few people going to the cinema in 1963 to see the film would have been able to identify the locations, as so few people travelled abroad back then compared to today.

  18. #18
    Senior Member Country: UK Freddy's Avatar
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    Wonderful darren, once again many thanks.

  19. #19
    Senior Member Country: England darrenburnfan's Avatar
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    Thanks, Freddy, there was more than that, but I got fed up of typing. You can't Google any of this stuff, you have to track down the original film magazines that contain a wealth of info and carefully type the text in them into MicroSoft Word.

  20. #20
    Senior Member Country: England darrenburnfan's Avatar
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    My facility to copy and paste links on my computer has disappeared for some unknown reason. So I have copied the URL by hand and am now going to type it into this message. This should take you directly to the page with the newsreel link on it.



    The Jessie Matthews Homepage



    This event would most likely have been better covered by Movietone News, which was shown in Rank cinemas and therefore would have at least mentioned the title of the film and name of the cinema.

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