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Sammy Going South

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Title: Sammy Going South  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: 1963 in film, Edward G. Robinson, Harry H. Corbett, Erwin Hillier, Alexander Mackendrick, Constance Cummings, Marc Sinden, BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography, Family Classics, Paul Stassino
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Sammy Going South

Sammy Going South
File:Sammy Going South - 1963 poster.jpg
1963 British Theatrical Poster
Directed by Alexander Mackendrick
Produced by Hal Mason
Written by W.H. Canaway
Denis Cannan
Starring Edward G. Robinson
Cinematography Erwin Hillier
Release date(s)
Running time 118 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Sammy Going South (retitled A Boy Ten Feet Tall for its later US release) is a 1963 British adventure film directed by Alexander Mackendrick, photographed by Erwin Hillier and starring Edward G. Robinson, Fergus McClelland and Constance Cummings.[1] The film was based on a novel by W.H. Canaway and adapted for the screen by Denis Cannan. It was produced by Michael Balcon Productions and Bryanston Films. It was first broadcast on British television on BBC2 on Christmas Day 1970 and on American television by the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) in 1971. The film was entered into the 3rd Moscow International Film Festival.[2]


Ten-year-old Sammy (Fergus McClelland) lives in Port Said, Egypt, with his parents. When they are killed in a bombing during the Suez Crisis, the boy flees the city in the ensuing panic. He sets out to reach his only living relative, an aunt who lives 5000 miles to the south in Durban, South Africa - at the other end of the continent and in a different hemisphere. Along his journey Sammy encounters a colourful array of characters. His first "guide" is an Arab peddler who dies in a freak accident. Sammy is then "rescued" by wealthy tourist Gloria van Imhoff (Constance Cummings). When she wants to return him to Port Said, Sammy runs off and encounters a crusty old hunter/diamond smuggler, Cocky Wainwright (Edward G. Robinson), whose life is subsequently saved by the boy. When the police search for Sammy, they arrest the old man, who has been a fugitive for years. After Sammy is finally united with his Aunt Jane (Zena Walker), he learns that the old smuggler left him his entire fortune. As Cocky Wainwright, Edward G. Robinson gave "one of the subtlest performances of his later career."[3] Chosen for 1963's Royal Film Performance[4] and nominated for a BAFTA Film Award for best British cinematography in 1964, the film had a difficult production period; Robinson suffered a heart attack and some cast members were bitten by snakes.[5]


Fergus McClelland was an eleven years old pupil at Holland Park Comprehensive School in London in March 1962 when he was chosen from hundreds of other boys to play Sammy. According to the actor Sir Donald Sinden, (who had worked for the films executive producer Sir Michael Balcon at Ealing Studios when he made The Cruel Sea) his youngest son, the film director Marc Sinden, then aged 8, was originally offered the part of Sammy, but he turned the offer down on his sons behalf as "only a handful of child actors ever make it as adult actors and if Marc wants to be an actor, he should wait until he is old enough to make the decision himself."[6] Alexander 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.”

Filming began in Africa in May 1962 in CinemaScope and Eastman Colour and finished at Shepperton Studios in England in November of that year (Fergus McClelland celebrated his 12th birthday on the set in September 1962). For political reasons, filming couldn't be done in Port Said, Egypt, so Mombasa in Kenya stood in for the scenes set at the height of the Suez Crisis of 1956 and the air attack on Port Said. Some long shots were done clandestinely by a second unit in Egypt, with an Arab boy dressed as Sammy and with the negative later being smuggled out of the country. Originally, the finished film came in at over three hours and two film editors were brought in by executive producer Sir Michael Balcon to trim it considerably to a more manageable 129 minutes. When submitted to the British Board of Film Censors in February 1963, they ordered further cuts totalling one minute (where the Syrian peddler was shown lusting after Sammy) before they would grant the film the "U" certificate that the producers were after (oddly enough, a small part of these censored scenes apparently made it to the release version and can be seen on the present DVD). It was chosen as The Royal Film Performance of 1963 and premièred at the Odeon, Leicester Square, London, attended by H.M. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother on Monday, March 18, 1963 and released nationally in April. Shortly after its initial release in 1963, the film was trimmed of a further nine minutes and this version was the one that was used for its first showing on British television in 1970 and all subsequent television showings in the United Kingdom. In 2010, when Optimum Releasing wanted to release the film on DVD in the UK, they made a thorough search for the original 128 minutes release version without success. Not even the British Film Institute had one. So reluctantly, Optimum released the 119 minutes version instead (running 114 minutes at PAL running speed). The original release version is now believed lost. When the film was released in the United States, it was retitled A Boy Ten Feet Tall and it was cut by forty minutes so that it would fit on a double bill, which considerably ruined the narrative. Tristram Cary's score was also replaced by another score composed by Les Baxter. Regarding the American distributors changing the title of the film, in a BBC radio interview recorded in June 2010, Fergus McClelland recalled: "They were very worried that white Americans would think it was about a black boy called Sammy and wouldn't go to see the film."

The actual history of the making of the film is a very troubled one. Executive Producer Sir Michael Balcon saw the story as a Disney-fied and heartwarming tale of an innocent ten years old 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, which was altogether darker: He saw it as “the inward odyssey of a deeply disturbed child, who destroys everybody he comes up against”. Mackendrick 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 by Balcon of key scenes vital to the narrative undermined the film considerably. They didn't fit in with the family friendly Boys' Own Adventure he thought he was making. However, despite the cutting of these scenes, something of the quality and realism that Mackendrick strived to put on film still came through.



External links

  • Internet Movie Database
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