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Four Angry Young Men: Richard Burton & Albert Finney, Richard Harris & Tom Courtenay

Albert Finney in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
Albert Finney in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Photo: Bryanston Films Ltd./Photofest

“Four Angry Young Men” is the title of a four-film series to take place on two consecutive Saturdays, Nov. 14 and 21, at the Getty Center's Harold M. Williams Auditorium. Note: The screenings are free, but a separate reservation is required for each film.

The Four Angry Young Men in question – no actorish Marlon Brando-James Dean types, they – are Richard Burton (Look Back in Anger), Albert Finney (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning), Richard Harris (This Sporting Life), and Tom Courtenay (The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner). Good-looking, (mostly) working-class blokes with the chance of happiness and success at their fingertips if only … Well, if only life were like sappy Hollywood movies.

The women in those films, a couple of which are about just as angry – or at least as frustrated – as the guys are Claire Bloom and Mary Ure (Look Back in Anger), Rachel Roberts and Shirley Anne Field (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning), and Roberts again (This Sporting Life).

I haven't seen Tony Richardson's Look Back in Anger (1958), yet, which is considered the first (and according to some, finest) of the British Angry Young Men movies. Even if only for historical reasons, this drama about a disillusioned university graduate is definitely worth checking out.

Of the other three, my favorite is Lindsay Anderson's gritty This Sporting Life (1963), with Richard Harris, as a potential rugby star, delivering what may well be one of the two best performances of his career (the other was in The Field) while supported by Rachel Roberts in equally top form. Both actors were nominated for Academy Awards; Harris, at least, should have won that year. (Roberts competition was stiffer, including Patricia Neal in Hud.)

Karel Reisz's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) has much to recommend it, particularly Roberts' performance as a married woman who becomes pregnant by factory worker Albert Finney; Tony Richardson's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), for its part, offers one of my favorite moments in film history: long-distance runner Tom Courtenay's defiant look at headmaster Michael Redgrave near the end of the drama. Why do so few of today's movies boast that spirit of genuine anti-establishment rebelliousness? Our loss, really.

Now, just as important as the actors and directors are the screenwriters of those four films. They are: Nigel Kneale (adapting John Osborne's play); Alan Sillitoe (The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, from his short story, and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, from his novel); and David Storey (This Sporting Life, from his novel).

Schedule and synopses from the Getty Center website:

Claire Bloom, Richard Burton in Look Back in AngerLook Back in Anger

Saturday, November 14, 4:00 p.m.
(1959, 98 min., 35 mm, not rated)
Directed by Tony Richardson

Produced in 1956, John Osborne's play, with its blunt, realistic look at the everyday life of a university-educated man living a lower-class existence, shocked West End theatergoers used to Noël Coward.

Brought to screen with Richard Burton in the lead role, the film maintains the anger, ruthlessness, and raw energy of the play while creating what some film critics claim was the pinnacle of British New Wave Cinema.

Photo: Courtesy Getty Center; Warner Bros. Pictures/Photofest © Warner Bros. Pictures. Photographer: Bob Penn.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

Saturday, November 14, 7:00 p.m.
(1961, 89 min., 35mm, not rated)
Directed by Karel Reisz

Uttering the iconic angry young man line, “Whatever they say I am, that's what I'm not,” Albert Finney created one of the most memorable characters in British film history, Arthur Seaton—factory worker, disillusioned youth, working-class sex symbol, rebellious pleasure seeker.

With Reisz's direction and Finney's breakthrough performance, the film would come to epitomize the social concerns of post-World War II Britain as it edged into the swinging '60s.

This Sporting Life

Saturday, November 21, 4:00 p.m.
(1963, 134 min., 35mm, not rated)
Directed by Lindsay Anderson

In a dramatic contrast to some of his later great roles (Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series, for instance!), here a young Richard Harris shines as a poor Yorkshire miner turned hopeful rugby star.

In this gritty and beautiful work, director Anderson created not only a fine essay on working-class angst, but also a film that looked new and different thanks to unusual editing, riveting cinematography, and a haunting score.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

Saturday, November 21, 7:00 p.m.
(1962, 104 min., 35 mm, not rated)
Directed by Tony Richardson

Colin (Tom Courtenay) is determined not to follow in his father's footsteps and become a miner. He resorts to petty crimes until he gets caught and sent to a reform school. There he meets his dopplegänger, the headmaster (Michael Redgrave), who seeks to exploit the young man's talent of running to both “help” the lad and bring a bit of glory to the school.

The desires of the two men create the atmosphere indicative of the “kitchen sink” drama, which—at its best, as here—brought the British class system to its knees.


         
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1 Comment to Four Angry Young Men: Richard Burton & Albert Finney, Richard Harris & Tom Courtenay

  1. HY

    Rachel Roberts was angrier than any of the men in this list.