Town on Trial (1957) had an airing on Film4 in December. I was in the wonderful position of having seen the film before – yet having forgotten all about it. I like it when that happens with both films and books, it brings the comfort of the familiar but still holds surprises.
The film stars John Mills as a rather jaded policeman who is brought into a close knit southern dormitory town to investigate a murder. The town appears to be teeming with obnoxious narrow-minded snobbish types, brim full of their own entitlement. We are presented with a range of potential murderers and are sympathetically drawn in to Mills’ investigations. The location scenes of the film were shot in Weybridge and I really enjoyed seeing the snapshots of 1950s affluence. I expect contemporary residents of the town can watch and marvel at the quiet streets and not quite so built up suburbs. One scene which caught my eye was when the doctor gets caught with a body in the boot of his car, while paying a visit to the petrol station. The old fashioned row of pumps and the attendant appealed to me straight away. Why oh why don’t we have petrol attendants anymore? I hate putting petrol into my car and I always seem to manage to get it all over my hands. I live in fear of combusting over the bank card machine. What if I put my PIN number in too quick? The friction might give me third degree burns. No wonder unemployment is so high, we have to do everything ourselves these days.
I think that the petrol station particularly caught my imagination after the listing of two particularly fine old examples earlier in 2012. Canopies at Markham Moor (Nottinghamshire) and Red Hill (Leicestershire) both appeared in the 1960s and show how the new age of car ownership caught the imagination of designers and architects once upon a time. Now that we’re over the excitement of it all, motoring infrastructure has become pedestrian. But once, it was all cutting edge stuff. Such is the wealth of furniture worth a study, an academic book has been published: “Carscapes: The Motor Car, Architecture and Landscape in England” by Morrison and Minnis. I’ve lingered over this book but have not quite taken the plunge due to the price. I find the architectural exuberance of meeting new societal demands fascinating. I’m the same with tube stations. What a shame all petrol stations all look the same now. And what a shame you have to get out of the car to get the petrol!
Little glimpses like these in old films can set you off down a road of discovery and rumination. Throw in an engaging cast and story like that of ‘Town on Trial’, and you’ve got yourself a little cinematic gem.