The Yellow Balloon (film)

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The Yellow Balloon
"The Yellow Balloon" (1953).jpg
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
(credited as J. Lee-Thompson)
Written by Anne Burnaby
J. Lee Thompson
Produced by Victor Skutezky
Starring Andrew Ray
Kenneth More
Kathleen Ryan
William Sylvester
Cinematography Gilbert Taylor
Edited by Richard Best
Music by Philip Green
Marble Arch Productions
Distributed by Associated British Picture Corporation
Allied Artists (US)
Release date
  • 10 February 1953 (1953-02-10)
Running time
78 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office£116,245 (UK) [1]

The Yellow Balloon is a 1953 British drama film directed by J. Lee Thompson and starring Andrew Ray, William Sylvester, Kathleen Ryan, Kenneth More and Hy Hazell. [2] [3] It was Thompson's second feature as director. It was distributed by Associated British and produced by the company's Marble Arch Productions. It was made at Elstree Studios with sets designed by the art director Robert Jones. Location shooting took place around Bayswater and Chelsea including Queensway tube station.



The film is set in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, in London's East End, amongst the bomb sites.

12-year-old Frankie Palmer (Andrew Ray) loses the sixpence his father has given him to buy a large yellow balloon from a street seller which the boy has set his heart on. He sees that a friend of his, young Ronnie Williams (Stephen Fenemore), has already bought one and Frankie snatches it off him and runs off with it, with Ronnie in hot pursuit.

Ronnie chases Frankie into a large, bombed-out house and they are running about in the ruins when Ronnie slips and falls 30 ft (9 m) to his death. Frankie scrambles down to help, but realises that there is nothing he can do. Hiding in the shadows and seeing it all, Len Turner (William Sylvester), a criminal on the run and using the ruins as a hideout from the police, convinces Frankie that the police will arrest the boy and charge him with the murder of his friend for pushing him to his death and that they must both make their getaway.

Although Frankie and Len agree it was an accident, Len is adamant that the police will not see it that way and Frankie goes off with him. Len blackmails Frankie into stealing money from his parents (Kenneth More and Kathleen Ryan) to help fund Len's escape and then uses the boy as a decoy in a pub robbery that goes horribly wrong when Len murders the pub owner.

Realising that Frankie is the only witness to his crime, Len knows he must kill the boy, too. This develops into a terrifying hide-and-seek chase through a bomb-damaged, abandoned and highly-perilous London Underground station, with Len hot on the heels of Frankie, who is desperately trying to escape with his life. [4]

A tube driver passing at speed through the station sees the pursuit as he speeds past the platform. He reports it at the next station and the police are alerted. They rescue Frankie. In a poetic-justice ending Len walks over a beam over a long drop before falling to his death.



The film was based on an idea of Anne Burnaby. She originally wanted the character of Mary to be a prostitute but was not allowed for censorship reasons. [5] Star Andrew Ray had just appeared in The Mudlark . [6] William Sylvester was an American who settled in Britain after the war.

Filming had definitely begun by May, 1952, as there is an on set photograph available of Andrew Ray celebrating his 13th birthday on May 31 of that year at Elstree Studios blowing out the candles on his birthday cake, surrounded by his parents and other children from the film. [7] The film was shot at Elstree Studios and on location around London. [8]


The Yellow Balloon was one of the first films to be passed with the then new Adults Only "X" certificate by the British Board of Film Censors, which barred anyone under the age of 16 years from being allowed into a cinema to see the film. This was because the censor felt that the chase through the London Underground station in the last reel would be very frightening for young children. Andrew Ray, 13 years old when the film was shot in 1952 and when it was released in 1953, was disappointed that he wasn't allowed to go into a cinema to see his own film because he was under the age of 16. [9]

However, after complaints from cinema exhibitors that the "X" certificate wasn't really necessary for the film and it was losing them the family audience they had relied on up until that time, the BBFC eventually relented and in October 1953 they re-classified the film with an "A" certificate (children under 16 allowed in to see the film if accompanied by an adult). (NOTE: the distributor requested it be reclassified in April 1953, which was rejected and it retained its 'X' certificate).


The Observer called it "a forceful and far from stupid British film which we might have appreciated more had we not seen The Window ." [10] Variety said it "should chalk up modest grosses." [11]

In The New York Times , critic Bosley Crowther wrote: "it is a leisurely sort of chiller that trades intriguingly upon a youngster's far-fetched fears...The moral is, of course, that children should speak up rather than harbor their fears. But they don't. So probably the British will be able to go right on making these variably fascinating films for years." [12]

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  1. Vincent Porter, 'The Robert Clark Account', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol 20 No 4, 2000 p 502
  2. [ user-generated source ]
  3. "The Yellow Balloon | BFI &#124". BFI. Archived from the original on 12 July 2012. Retrieved 4 April 2014.
  4. The YELLOW BALLOON Picture Show; London Vol. 60, Iss. 1568, (Apr 18, 1953): 9.
  5. Harper, Sue; Porter, Vincent (2003). British Cinema of The 1950s The Decline of Deference. Oxford University Press USA. p. 80.
  6. Chibnall, Steve (2000). J. Lee Thompson. Manchester University Press. pp. 40–50. ISBN   9780719060120.
  7. "Mound the studios". The Mail (Adelaide) . Vol. 42, no. 2, 104. South Australia. 4 October 1952. p. 7 (SUNDAY MAGAZINE). Retrieved 8 July 2020 via National Library of Australia.
  8. "Foam bath for a fat boy". The Mail (Adelaide) . Vol. 42, no. 2, 115. South Australia. 20 December 1952. p. 6 (SUNDAY MAGAZINE). Retrieved 8 July 2020 via National Library of Australia.
  9. BOY ACTOR MAY NOT SEE HIS OWN FILM Times Pictorial (31 Jan 1953: 8.
  10. LAND OF HOPE Lejeune, C A. The Observer (1901- 2003); London (UK) [London (UK)]11 Jan 1953: 6.
  11. Review of film at Variety
  12. Crowther, Bosley (13 October 1954). "Movie Review - The Yellow Balloon - The Screen in Review; 'The Yellow Balloon' at Normandie Theatre". The New York Times . Retrieved 4 April 2014.