La Ragazza Con La Pistola

Photograph by Record Turnover

It’s remarkable that this 1968 Italian comedy, directed by Mario Monicelli, was partly filmed in Sheffield. The Girl with the Pistol, or La Ragazza Con La Pistola, received an Oscar nomination for best foreign film as well as receiving critical praise.

It starred Monica Viti, Carlo Giuffre, Stanley Baker, Corin Redgrave and Anthony Booth (Tony Blair’s father-in-law).

Photograph by Rare Film

The wry comedy finds the beautiful Assunta (Monica Vitti) being kidnapped by Vincento (Carlo Giuffre) and taken to his remote home in the country. He plans to “dishonour her” and by doing so, win her hand in marriage.

In a twist of events, she becomes too domineering and Vincenzo flees, but she resolutely travels to Edinburgh, Sheffield, Bath, and London seeking revenge, but finds an Englishman more to her liking.

Photograph by AvaxHome

According to British Women’s Cinema (by Melanie Bell and Melanie Williams), “Assunta continues her journey of revenge to Sheffield. A bus ride, highlighting the English landscape takes her there. On a street, she encounters a young man, John (Anthony Booth) who, she notices ‘has Italian shoes’, and she enlists him in her quest for vengeance.”

Scenes in Sheffield were shot at Granville Street, one scene overlooking Sheaf Street and Ponds Forge Works, Park Hill, Neepsend, Manor Lane, Attercliffe and at Steel, Peach & Tozer’s factory, Templeborough, in Rotherham.

According to one fanzine, “La Ragazza con la Pistola may have been nominated for an Academy Award, but is mainly interesting for Monica Vitti prancing around Edinburgh and Sheffield.”

The film was supported by a slightly psychedelic soundtrack by Peppino de Luca.

Photograph by IMDb

Slade in Flame

If you want to see Sheffield at its saddest, then look at Slade in Flame (1975), a bleak and sour look at the 1960s rock music scene.

Slade as a band had been an incredible success in Britain, but probably didn’t realise they’d peaked by 1974. Their manager, Chas Chandler, suggested making a movie, and so, Noddy Holder, Don Powell, Dave Hill and Jim Lea, found themselves showcasing the rise and demise of a made-up northern rock band called Flame.

Directed by Richard Loncraine, Slade in Flame was filmed in the second half of 1974, and subject of enormous enthusiasm when Sheffield, along with Nottingham, London and Brighton, was chosen as one of its locations.

There’s no doubt that Sheffield got the short straw when it came to the glitz and glamour, but the film is a revelation because it shows a city that has since disappeared.

Sheffield served up the hardship of working-class society and gave its best shot when offering up its depressing 1970s settings.

Photograph by Walkley History

This is the type of film that will probably show up on Talking Pictures TV one day.

When it does, look out for shining roles from the now-demolished Kelvin Flats, a polluted canal, slum-like terraced housing on Fox Road and Otley Street (long gone) at Walkley, and Douglas Road at Parkwood Springs.

Shortly afterwards, these houses, already boarded-up and convenient for filming, were bulldozed, the areas re-landscaped with no evidence to see of their shabby past.

Yes, it makes dismal viewing, but this was the Sheffield of yesterday.

Photograph by Walkley History

Slade in Flame got mixed reviews when it was released the following year. Teen audiences expecting a Slade romp-a-rama were left bewildered, not really getting what it was all about.

“It was quite a heavy movie,” said Noddy Holder years later. “It was about fallings-out in bands and all the repercussions they cause. There was a lot of violence and it had a very downbeat ending.”

However, the film has received critical acclaim since. The BBC’s movie critic Mark Kermode rates it as one of his favourites and calls it the Citizen Kane of rock musicals.

Photograph by Walkley History

Looks and Smiles

The 1980s might seem a long time ago now. This was the decade when Sheffield probably reached rock bottom, our historic industries on their knees, and prospects seemingly bleak . Unemployment was a selective virus, attacking some people more than others, and it wasn’t a good time to be a school leaver.

If ever there is a reminder of those depressing times then Ken Loach’s film Looks and Smiles, made in 1981, is the one to dig out.

It showed the effects on two Sheffield teenagers who leave school and cannot get a job. Loach, together with writer Barry Hines and cameraman Chris Menges (the same team who made Kes and The Gamekeeper) told a human story that added up to a very political film, immediately relevant to Britain of the eighties.

Looks and Smiles was made by Black Lion Films, in association with Kestrel Films, backed by the old ITV Midlands company ATV, using its ITC subsidiary (famous for The Champions, The Persuaders, Randall and Hopkirk Deceased, etc).

Shot in black-and-white during early 1981, it appeared at the Cannes Film Festival the same year. However, it was only ever intended as a deep-seated TV drama, airing on the ITV network in May 1982.

“When I started writing the story, it was going to be about courting, having your first girlfriend. But the issue of unemployment became more and more important like a storm cloud gathering,” said Barry Hines at the time.

Ken Loach pointed to the fact that one of Sheffield’s employment offices, which used to advertise “Jobs of the Week” in its window was then offering “The Job of the Week.”

The resulting two-hour film was still the love story of Mick and Karen, but against the depressing background of Mick’s struggle to find work, and whether the Army was for some of them the only alternative to a lifetime in the dole queue.

Available on DVD, Looks and Smiles now provides a fascinating view of Sheffield in desperate times, and evokes memories of an industrial scene and a city centre lost forever, including the Hole-in-the-Road.

None of the lead characters were professional actors. Graham Green (Mick), aged 17, was from Doncaster, and 16-year-old Carolyn Nicholson (Karen) was from Newcastle-on-Tyne. The third acting newcomer was played by a 17-year-old trainee mechanic, Tony Pitts (Alan) from Sheffield.

After making the film the boys went back to their trades and Carolyn back to her studies.

However, for one of them the film did have a deep impact.

Tony Pitts turned his back on being a mechanic, landing the role of loveable young rogue Archie Brooks in Emmerdale between 1983 and 1993. He’s since played key roles in Dead Man Weds, The Gemma Factor, Scott & Bailey, Peaky Blinders, Line of Duty and Wild Bill.