(Joseph Despins, UK, 1975) 100 minutes


Director: Joesph Despins
Producer: Geoffrey Evans
Screenplay: William Dumaresque
Photography: Peter Hannan
Editor: Joseph Despins
Music: Galt MacDermot
Doris Fishwick (Sybil)
Peter Farrell (Akki)
Erna May (Bertha Gusset)
John Gay (Bert Gusset)
Sean Caffrey (Jack MacMahon)
Sharon Forester (Belinda)

Reviews and notes

A full length musical set in London to the melodies of Galt (Hair) MacDermot. A highly original look at life on the fringe of the Roman Empire with the dialogue entirely in Latin. That's the top of this week's bill, and I'm not a bit surprised if the majorlty of readers have not heard of MOON OVER THE ALLEY or Sebastiane.

For both are what's called "independent films." They belong to the branch-line of cinema, not the main track. Both prove it's sometimes more fun, and decidedly more original, to take a trip on the former.

MOON OVER THE ALLEY somehow got the backing of the British Film Institute production fund, a body so committed to arid, doctrinaire debate that the word "entertainment" could provoke psychosomatic tremors in its members. Having financed it, the BFI then characteristically left it unshown in Britain till its makers, Joseph Despins and William Dumaresq, were driven to appeal to critics direct.

Now you can see it... It deserves immense popularity.

It's like a Bert Brecht-Kurt Weill collaboration mated with one of the more-sentimental working-class subjects that Gracie Fields used to stretch her vocal cords on. Oddly, unexpectedy, the two intentions unite in a truthful, fresh fashion that doesn't exploit the milieu, but illuminates it.

The large cast falls so naturally and immediately into the way of life that they tell us about a place as well as the people in it. Specifically, a rooming-house and the side streets around it where people's small, personal, particular problems thrust up gamely through the discouragement that daily living tries to spread over them.

There's the tart-tongued German lady who runs the lodgings; her retired husband; her perky, bright-eyed schoolboy son shyly petting with the tobacconist's daughter in a near-empty cinema (where amusingly, another BFI production board film is showing); the reclusive old man in the second-floor back with an eye for children; the American hippie in the cubby hole under the stairs; the Jamaican family in the attic; an Irish barman whose long-waiting fiancee has taken to a Soho strip-club to raise their mortgage and get her wedding ring.

Outside in the dark streets - it's largely a night-time film, photographed by Peter Hannan in lustrous black-and-white - an old street singer and her man-friend perambulate along the line of fate that at the end sees a mugging, a rape and a murder that put the prophesied "blood" on the moon, in whose rays the fortunes or mishaps of the characters wax and wane.

The German-Jewish landlady breaks into song as she listens to a breakfast-time lyric on a Pop radio station; a Spanish pub-entertainer makes an hilariously successful debut by sheer force of badness; the Jamaican mother croons to her baby; her husband and his mate find the tug of home precipitated by a mug of cocoa in Portobello Road's market stalls; a strip-club number pastiches the whole awful genre that ends with its inevitable nude can-can flourish.

MacDermot's music and Dumaresq's songs are like inlay, not overlay: they fill the blanks between the lines. But the lines are rendered with an easy, naturalness I haven't seen for ages in a British film.

Sentimental, it may be: But MOON OVER THE ALLEY isn't ever condescending, it doesn't hype the rhythms of proletarian life like Sparrers Can't Sing did. Its people are not comic stereotypes; they are people of the here and now.
- Alexander Walker, Evening Standard, 28/10/76.

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