Director: John Krish
Stars: Juniors and Seniors of Roebuck Junior School, Watton-at-Stone Primary School and the Simon Balle School, Hertfordshire, Peter Hill, David Millett, Jeremy Wilkin, Kevin Flood, Antony Carrick, Yolande Palfrey, David Howe, Don Henderson and members of the St John Ambulance Brigade, Hertfordshire
Index: Weird Wednesdays.
If One Got Fat was traumatising, and I’ve heard that adjective used a number of times, then The Finishing Line is nightmare-inducing. It’s a British short, made by John Krish for British Transport Films, on his return to work for them after a period on the blacklist, following his unauthorised commentary on the closure of London’s trams in 1953’s The Elephant Will Never Forget. He was asked to make a film that might help to stop children playing on railway lines and vandalising them. What he came up with, in collaboration with co-writer Michael Gilmour, was The Finishing Line, which surely features more maimed and dead children than The Hunger Games and Battle Royale combined. It proved immediately controversial (like, duh) and was debated on the TV show Nationwide. Some felt it was a tough film for a tough problem, while others worried about it traumatising their kids or even encouraging the very sort of vandalism that it purported to prevent. It was promptly pulled from circulation, replaced by a safe, inconsequential film called Robbie.
So what did John Krish do that so upset the British public in 1977? Well, contrary to every other example of a public safety film out there, he turned the problem at hand into a game. Well, not really a game. It’s a competition, a prominent school competition spawned from the sonorous words of a headmaster that resonate over the opening shots. ‘The railway is not the game field!’ he pronounces, so the one kid who sits dangerously on the edge of a stone bridge overlooking a railway line, immediately thinks, ‘Yeah, but if it was...’ He’d have lots of trains, a twenty foot scoreboard and even a brass band, which strikes up as we watch his twisted imagination at work. I grew up with British sports days and was six when this was released, so there’s much I remember here, from the bowl haircuts to having to restart the first race after some eager kid jumped the gun. The only bit that doesn’t feel familiar is when the folk from the St John’s Ambulance bring stretchers out of tents in preparation for what’s to come.
The Finishing Line can be watched for free on YouTube.
Kier-La Janisse - School of Shock: Q+A: John Krish on Railway Scare Film 'The Finishing Line' at Fangoria.
Jude Rogers - Consider Yourselves Warned: Public Information Films at The Guardian