T. it.: Sammy va al sud. T. alt.: A Boy Ten Feet Tall. Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo di W.H. Canaway. Scen.: Denis Cannan. F.: Erwin Hillier. M.: Jack Harris. Scgf.: Edward Tester. Mus.: Tristram Cary. Su.: H.L. Bird. Int.: Edward G. Robinson (Cocky Wainwright), Fergus McClelland (Sammy), Constance Cummings (Gloria van Imhoff), Harry H. Corbett (Lem), Paul Stassino (Spyros Dracandopolous), Zia Mohyeddin (la siriana), Orlando Martins (Abu Lubaba), John Turner (Heneker), Zena Walker (zia Jane). Prod.: Michael Balcon per Greatshows, Bryanston Seven Arts. Pri. pro.: 18 marzo 1963. 35mm. D.: 118′. Col.
As directed by Alexander Mackendrick, whose first picture this is in seven years, Sammy is often a serious film posing as a simple one. And one can imagine that in less capable hands the tale would have been quite differently told. Thankfully, in developing the central situation of the wandering child all alone in the world, Mackendrick has steered clear of the kind of synthetic sentimentality that might have well damned one’s acceptance of it. Really, wee Sammy is no more than a little brute who uses everyone who crosses his path. The director’s view is quite clear on this and we are asked to accept Sammy not as a romanticised figure, all cute tricks and grave wisdom, but as a sharp little cookie who deserves our respect as a person entirely in his own right. But although synthetic sentimentality is shunned in this key figure, there’s nothing austere about Mackendrick’s handling of the picture generally. Admittedly the piece takes not a little while to get into its stride, and by far the best scenes come toward the end. But it might well be argued that the slow opening is important in relationship to the last scenes, and that we must first see Sammy as an uncommunicative vagrant before we can appreciate the extent of his blossoming-out under the old man’s guidance. A wonderfully grizzled performance by Edward G. Robinson adds great value to these final scenes. Gruff in tone and leathery of appearance, his deeply-charged playing gives the film a warm-hearted centre which it is greatly in need of. Fergus McClelland’s own performance as Sammy is not lightly to be dismissed either. How much of it came from the director working through him can only be guessed at, but the result is exactly right. Denis Cannan’s script is a bit on the limp side and, along with some drawn-out scenes between the boy and the pedlar, is the film’s biggest stumbling block. But perhaps, when all is said and done, the main virtue of the piece is that it’s Sandy Mackendrick’s first film in seven long years, since, in fact, the bitter but marvellous Sweet Smell of Success. Whilst not wholly pleasing, Sammy bears enough evidence that Mackendrick is still the best of British directors. One only hopes it won’t be another seven years before he is at work again.
John Cutts, Sammy Going South, “Films and Filming”, n. 8, maggio 1963