No Trees in the Street, the 1959 film starring Herbert Lom and Sylvia Syms, tells the story of a family living in the overcrowded Kennedy Street in pre-war London, where the residents face little prospects and high unemployment. Tommy, the young son of the family, falls in with local racketeer Wilkie, who lures him into the world of crime, whilst also trying to seduce his sister Hetty, encouraged by her mother who believes it will bring the family out of poverty. The screenplay is written by Ted Willis, based on his own play, and directed by Academy Award nominee J. Lee Thompson.
No Trees in the Street is an enjoyable film, full of drama and intrigue, but suffers from characters held back by heavy stereotyping and without much of a role in the story. The family, living in their squalid house surrounded by poverty, spend most of their time drinking, dancing and gossiping with their neighbours. This ends up filling several scenes in the film, with not much need and without greatly adding to the story.
Stanley Holloway, as a resident of the street, adds some humour to the downbeat story. Similarly, Melvyn Hayes as Tommy also manages to add drama to the film, as we see his decent further and further into the world of crime. The narrative is well shaped, but ultimately suffers due to time-killing scenes where not much happens and a lack of plot.
An exception to this is Sylvia Syms as Hetty, whose sensitive portrayal of a girl trying to escape her existence without falling into crime and refusing to do as others want of her defiantly stands out in the film. As does Herbert Lom as Wilkie, perhaps often typecast as the foreign villain in films; he is unpleasant and dominating, but keeps your attention with his overbearing presence.
Both actors use the script to produce emotional performances, and the scenes with both are the most enjoyable in the film, even if at times they are uncomfortable to watch. Lom has a special ability to draw you in with his dark eyes, simply by looking past the camera. Undoubtedly, they are the main stars of the film. Although Syms was deservedly BAFTA nominated for her role, but lost out to Audrey Hepburn, I feel that Lom should also have been nominated for his role as the unnerving Wilkie. His friend, Peter Sellers, won that year.
Visually, the director has made the film very naturalistic, with the overbearing characters and lack of space perfectly representing the suffocation that Tommy and Hetty feel. Wilkie is often framed to be looking down on others, representing his power and control. One of the final scenes in the film, with all the characters together in one space, draws in the viewer to the claustrophobia that the characters feel daily.
Ultimately, No Trees in the Street is a kitchen sink drama, made at a time when they were very popular with audiences. It may not stick out as being anything special in the genre, but it is an enjoyable film, mostly due to the efforts of Syms and Lom, and casts a sympathetic eye over the working classes.
No Trees in the Street is available to buy now from Network.