Frankie wants a beautiful bright Yellow balloon from the street vender. He has done well at school and he knows that he will be rewarded. When his dad comes home he is given a shiny 5 pence and told to buy it. While on his way he slips and loses the money down a drain. Unable to rescue the money he walks off heart broken. When his friend buys a balloon he decides to take it. He is chased by his friend into a bombed out building. Running around the wreck, they play a game of hide and seek. This is all fine until his friend slips and Frankies whole world crashes down…
The country had seen its fair share of romances and melo drama during the war. These were designed to be morale boosters but post war horrors had changed the public sentiment. The Yellow Balloon is one of those hard and harsh films that opened the door on a nasty world. Much in the same vain as The Fallen Idol, it explored how children were not only the face of suffering but direct witness to it. British film of the early post war period was often very sharp in its comments on society. It combined harsh realities such as those relating to economic and social issues with cultural issue, such as grifting or immigration. It then filled them with sadistic villains that were not only unlikeable but steeped in apathy as well. In this film for instance Frankie is manipulated by an adult who wants him to steal money for him in order to buy his silence.Children being terrorised and blackmail is as dark and callous a subject as you can handle. Lee J Thompson the films director would later go on to make that masterpiece of callous terrorism Cape Fear.
The Yellow Balloon has much that even now is worth examining. The double pairing of a sadist and an innocent that has been accused relates to much of Thompsons later work. These are both played with vim and a level of maturity by the young boy. Frankie gives us a character of multiple faces and has as he has to endure pain, we empathise. This then crafts a deeper performance that reveals real pathos for his life and circumstances. He is also a victim of place and circumstance. Jovial childhood dreams are left aside as reality bites. Now in support are some very familiar faces and they too give rewarding performances. Kenneth Moore for instances plays the father and gives the role far less ham than his usual roles. He has a command and also a patient fatherly lilt that is very unique for the time. Sid James is vocal and rough as he would become famous for but is so good at his bit part as to be a pleasure to watch.
Well that settles the roles but what about the mise en scene? Well above all you should watch the film for its wonderful sets, the underground for instance is darkly sinister and very twisted in its framing. The bombed out buildings and the family home, all have tiny details and extract a level of connection to space and time. Even the amusement arcade is a delight of details and slight information. The slot machines, the cast in the background of various races and genders allow for an understanding of why and how times had started to change.We know much about the world from these tiny fragments. Film noir but with a twist as it diluted into the early 50s realm of social commentary.
So finally the question will come up as to why such a film is rated as a 15? This matters because it will draw a crowd to the film that may not be fulfilled by watching it. Well to put it simply as I can for the reason. The subject not the content is a problem. Infanticide is frowned upon by the BBFC and it is writ large in this film. Like a dark dream it tells us all that people are motivated by greed and even now, killing a child is an easy way to get to this. This film plays this tune without holding off and even now might leave a taste in the mouth that is not nice.