Please Note: The stills used here are taken from promotional materials and other sources, not the Blu-ray edition under review.
A widescreen Alice in Wonderland set in a world of grimy factories, motorcycles and mod miniskirts, the 1968 British drama Up the Junction follows a curious, wealthy young Londonite (played by Suzy Kendall) as she spends some time getting to know the working-class side of town. The quasi-documentary is one of several films from Paramount Pictures' back catalog now getting a cleaned-up reissue from the folks at Olive Films.
The British love doing dramas that expose gritty, "real" aspects of their modern urban life. Up the Junction sticks out from a crowded field for its female-positive vibrancy, period atmosphere, and the non-judgmental way it handles the characters. Based on a 1963 collection of short stories of the same name by Nell Dunn, the Cinderella-in-reverse plot served as a framework around which the day-to-day struggles of residents in the industrial boroughs of South London play out. Although the story winds up getting too episodic and sprawling, director Peter Collinson stages it with a keen eye for details. Shot extensively on location and cast with a variety of colorful cockney-voiced types, the film offers an evocative look at late '60s industrial London.
Up the Junction begins simply, outside a fancy home - where a young woman is seen entering a chauffeured limousine. After the vehicle is seen driving across a bridge into a blighted industrial area, the woman departs and starts a new life - no explanation needed. Where a film producer working today would probably give the lead character a redundant backstory or redemptive story arc, Up the Junction makes the journey of Polly (Suzy Kendall) a matter of simply wanting to know what a different way of living is like. In lightning-fast time, Polly finds a job on an assembly line at a confectionary factory. Although appearing aloof and "posh" at first, she eventually gains the friendship of a streetwise co-worker, Sylvie (Maureen Lipman) and her bubbly roommate, Rube (Adrienne Posta). The tension of whether Polly's origins will become revealed becomes not so important as the need for the character to establish herself in the industrial hamlet of Battersea. That in mind, much of the film is told strictly from Polly's viewpoint as she takes in her co-workers' gossip, joins Sylvie and Rube for partying and flirting with local gents at the pub, gets a mod-on-a-budget makeover, and becomes romantically involved with Peter (Dennis Waterman), a caustic delivery man. The lovely Kendall's blank-faced take on Polly might be considered a demerit, yet the actress ends up being unexpectedly affecting as this movie's viewer-surrogate - passively drinking in the wild characters she encounters.
All told, Up the Junction isn't perfect - the chronology of events seemed too accelerated (she finds a job, friends, and a flat in the same day?), and the story gets a bit pokey and conventional in the second half. Even so, those who enjoyed similar films such as To Sir with Love (which Kendall also appeared in) and Georgy Girl would find this one as appealing. If anything, it offers a different peek at swinging '60s London with lots of contemporary (albeit scaled-down) fashions, interesting details (a Monkees poster hangs in the factory), and an inelegantly placed yet enjoyable Pop-Rock soundtrack by Manfred Mann. This is another case where Olive Films has dug up an unappreciated gem from the Paramount library - for British drama fans especially, it's worth seeking out.
The Blu Ray:
Like many other Olive Films releases, the Blu Ray edition of Up the Junction sports a nice transfer which uses the detail-enhancing format to its fullest. Filmed in the Techniscope widescreen process, the letterboxed 2.35:1 image appears pleasing and well-balanced on light/dark levels, with not too many instances of artifacts or warpage. The color saturation has a lifelike feel, while the film grain adds an appealing texture without looking over-sharpened.
The film's Mono soundtrack is presented in an average mix which cranks up volume levels on the music track over dialogue and sound effects (several times, we had to adjust the volume on this one). Overall sound quality is quite clean for a '60s-period film, although some of the dialogue is obviously overdubbed. As with Olive's other products, no subtitles are included (they may have been helpful with some of the thick, working-class accents, however).
Breezy social commentary, intriguing, humor-tinged tale, and window upon the grimier side of '60s England, Up the Junction winds up being a surprisingly involving (if a little too lengthy) watch. The film has a lot of respect for its characters, starting with the protagonist, Polly - fetchingly played by the beautiful Suzy Kendall. Recommended.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist and sometime writer who lives in sunny (and usually too hot) Phoenix, Arizona. Among his loves are oranges, going barefoot and blonde 1930s movie comedienne Joyce Compton. Since 2000, he has been scribbling away at Pop Culture weblog Scrubbles.net. One can also follow him on Twitter @4colorcowboy.