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"I Believe in You" is a semi-documentary film about the work of the British Probation Service; it was inspired by the success of the recent "The Blue Lamp", which told a similar story about the police. Henry Phipps, an officer in the Colonial Service recently made redundant, becomes a probation officer, and the film follows the progress of his career and the lives of some of his clients. Towards the end the film veers away from its documentary approach in favour of a greater "human interest" slant as two of Phipps' charges, Charlie Hooker and Norma Hart, become involved in a love-triangle. Charlie and Norma are both basically decent at heart, even if they are also wild and rebellious, but the third party to the triangle, Jordie Bennett, although handsome and flashy enough to turn Norma's head, is little more than a vicious thug.
One thing that comes across from the film is just how upper-middle-class the British Probation Service was in the early fifties. There was a widespread belief among the haute bourgeoisie at this period that they knew, far better than the working classes did themselves, just how the working classes should live their lives. (This attitude, by the way, was by no means confined to the political Right. The Labour leader Clement Attlee and several of his front-bench colleagues had been educated at public schools and this was the era when a Labour minister could reassure the people that "the Man in the Ministry really does know best"). Phipps is clearly a well-to-do gentleman who lives in a luxurious West End home, speaks with a public school accent and can cheerfully admit that he has never before visited any working class area of London. His colleague Mrs Matheson advises him not to go out on visits wearing his Savile Road suit and smart overcoat, fearing that the sight of such sartorial elegance will alienate his clients, but as "Matty" is played by Celia Johnson, an actress whose cut-glass accent could make a duchess sound like a guttersnipe, I felt that she might have paid more attention to the beam in her own eye.
Johnson has never been my favourite actress, but Cecil Parker succeeds in making Phipps a reasonably likable figure, well-meaning despite an occasionally patronising manner. Parker had a fairly small range as an actor, and at times could be very dull (as he was, for example, in "The Wreck of the Mary Deare") but this is one of his better performances. The film also features two young actors who were to go on to become major stars. Laurence Harvey is convincingly menacing as Jordie and Joan Collins, in one of her earliest film appearances, surprisingly good as Norma.
I say "surprisingly" because in recent decades, ever since Fontaine Khaled in "The Stud" and "The Bitch" and Alexis Carrington in "Dynasty", the idea has grown up that Collins was a one-trick pony who specialised in playing upper-class bitches, glamorous and seductive but fundamentally untrustworthy. In the earlier part of her career, however, she had a much greater range. She did, admittedly, take some unsympathetic parts in the fifties; Sadie in "Our Girl Friday" is a spoilt little minx and Joan's character in "Land of the Pharaohs" is essentially a younger Alexis transported back in time to ancient Egypt. Norma, however, is very different, and not merely because of her working-class background. She may have gone off the rails but remains a vulnerable young woman beneath her brassy, defiant exterior. This is why Phipps reassures her, in the words of the film's title, that "I believe in you".
For all its atmosphere of middle-class do-goodery, the film is actually quite professionally put together. It looks very dated from the viewpoint of 2016, but in 1952 it must have had considerable interest for film-goers. The cinema of this period, when it dealt with crime, generally did so in terms of retributive justice and a "cops good, robbers bad" attitude. "I Believe in You" showed audiences that there was another, more gentle side to the criminal justice system and that rehabilitation could be as important as punishment. 6/10
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