Director: Thomas Carter
Starring: Robert Sean leonard, Frank Whaley, Barbara Hershey, Noah Wyle, Martin Clunes, Christian Bale, Kenneth Brannah . USA. 1h 54m
In Thomas Carter‘s bold coming of age melodrama, three friends find themselves having to become men in a world being ripped apart by hitler’s iron hand, when all they want to do is dance the night away to Harlem jazz. Sadly they are children of a world that they didn’t make, but the free spirits find themselves in trouble and soon swinging to the mantras of a fascist regime.
Carter seems to have this habit of working on lots of TV shows then cracking out a startling film usually entangled into a taboo or some kind of controversy like his later hit Coach Carter (2005).
Christian Bale plays Thomas, the handsome muscle in the trio of fun loving anti fascists, the first one to throw a punch to protect his friends and any other swing kid in trouble. Robert Leonard, ponders his way through life as Peter, the philosophical heart of the movie, his family have already been affected by the nazi’s, when his classically trained musical father was taken by them, leaving the family to fend for themselves, and finally their musician friend Arvid is played by the adorable Frank Whaley a slightly vulnerable chap who is most passionate about his music and his swing scene.
By night they hook up in underground parties celebrating their freedom through song and dance, everything about the Swing scene is loathed by the reich and eventually banned for the belief is caused delinquency… *ahem* On a reckless prank, the boys aim to steal a local cafe’s radio but Peter is caught and persuaded to join the hitler youth instead of prison or … worse… Even though Thomas escapes, he still enrolls to help protect Peter from the perils in the worst kind of boy school, but slowly the constant barragment of promises of a better future and the random beatings in the boxing club and presents from the reich they begin to question their standings.
Brits, Kenneth Brannah and Martin Clunes both play German officers, Clunes spends his days whispering sweet nothings in the ears of the young men with his authoritative and docile overtones he preaches about how wonderful and superior they are, while Brannah’s much more sinister as he wishes his way into the families, slowly seducing mothers and impressing little brothers with treats from the reich in order to gain confidence and subservience.
Life inside the guarded group of the hitler youth, starts to take over the two young men exposed, their guitar playing friend is the only one able to perceive their change in heart but can the power of the Swing keep them free from the chains of fascism?
It’s an interesting musically based coming of age rebellion movie, at times it can be slightly ridiculous as the premise is that hitler was a bad man because he hates swing music, and there’s barely a mention of the genocidal madness. There is a chilling scene where Thomas is asked to replace his book delivery route with a new series of parcels and out of curiosity he opens one and realises that he’s been asked to deliver a terrible augment of death to loved ones, but the charms of war aren’t really present in this feature, but there’s some glorious dance scenes with spotless choreography. There have been a few musical rebellion movies, like Quadrophenia (1979) and Breaking Glass (1980) and while this 20/30’s jazz inspired story doesn’t feature Punk or Phil Daniels it’s still a very valuable tale of the magic of music and youth standing up against a tyrannical world made by adults.
I’d never really seen Swing as being rebellious but any musical style if outlawed by tyrants can bring a scene together to help express themselves and this slightly bizarre combination is still a very effective backdrop to a poignant story and point in history.
R: Quadrophenia (1979) , Sid and Nancy (1986), Flame and Citron (2008), Breaking Glass (1980), Die Welle/ The Wave (2008)