Sandwiched between the ‘Angry Young Men’ of Look Back in Anger (1959), and the ‘Swinging London’ of Blow-Up (1966), lies a small gem of a film called Lunch Hour (1962). This lost classic of the British New Wave was directed and scored by James Hill, who later found success making animal movies like Born Free (1966) and Black Beauty (1971).
Shirley Anne Field stars as “The Girl,” a former art student starting a new job at a wallpaper factory. Robert Stephens, a dead ringer for Steve Coogan, co-stars as “The Man,” a married guy at the factory who becomes instantly infatuated with The Girl. The two begin an innocent dalliance that never seems to go beyond making out in a park; they’re constantly interrupted by an assortment of busybodies. The Man rents a room in a dodgy hotel for a bit of privacy, and that’s when things go pear-shaped. He cooks up an overelaborate story to tell the hotel Manageress, and when The Girl hears about it she becomes obsessed.
The real appeal of the movie comes not from the bog-standard plot, but from the black and white cinematography and the London locations. Sections of the film recall Jean Seberg selling copies of the New York Herald Tribune on the Champs Élyseé in Breathless (1960). The interruptions by various bystanders prefigure British sitcoms of frustration like Fawlty Towers (1975-1979) and The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (1976-1979), while a comic relief waitress looks like one of the Monty Python “pepper-pot” ladies.
Then there is Shirley Anne Field. The former cheesecake model is an insanely charming minx, who is apparently still working – she appeared in My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), for example, but her career peaked around 1966 when she acted in Alfie. Robert Stephens went on to become SIR Robert Stephens based on his theater work, though like all British actors he was occasionally sidelined by alcoholism.
The entire movie is one hour long, and comes packaged with a handful of documentary shorts by James Hill. Available for purchase on the BFI site as well as UK Amazon, or you could be a cheapskate and try to find it online.
Overall score: 95
Letter grade: A