Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Cops and robbers - English style, from the '40s onward

SLEEPING CAR TO TRIESTE, 1948. This is a delicious treat now, a 1940s train movie stuffed with players of the era, one to rank with THE LADY VANISHES or NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH. Here we have spies Albert Lieven (hissably evil as usual) and Jean Kent and a notebook that could change the face of the war, which they must get their hands on, but which is now hidden on that Orient Express to Trieste. Add in Finlay Currie as a pompous windbag, Bonar Colleano as another annoying Yank, Gregoire Aslan as a chef, plus Rona Anderson, David Tomlinson as a crashing bore, among that supporting cast. The plot twists and turns until we happily reach our destination.

BOYS IN BROWN, 1949. Juvenile delinquents, British style. How did I miss this one? Well I was too young then for a start. This is an even more delirious look at late-40s England (one that is never revived now) as we join those borstal boys in their short trousers in that institution presided over by well-meaning Jack Warner. Our two main ‘boys’ are Richard Attenborough and the rather more mature Jack Hanley. Chief inmate is scheming Dirk Bogarde, playing here with a camp, Welsh accent – Dirk would have been 29 at the time, so these are rather mature teenagers.

 Attenborough and Hanley are both decent chaps who have had misfortune and gone off the rails, but surely with Warner’s help they can be turned into decent citizens? Michael Medwin, Alfie Bass, Graham Payn, John Blyth, Patrick Holt are among the other ‘boys’ with Thora Hird as mother and Barbara Murry as love interest. Directed by Montgomery Tully, it must have paved the way for THE BLUE LAMP in 1950.
[A postscript: in 1970 when we were waiting to enter the auditorium for Dirk Bogarde’s discussion at the BFI (see Bogarde label for more on that), I got talking to the Attenboroughs who were next to me, Dickie was like an old friend and insisted on signing my programme. What a dear chap.].

THE BLUE LAMP. Despite being a great Dirk Bogarde admirer, I had not seen many of his early films – they simply never appear here, but are now on reasonable mid-price dvds by the enterprising StudioCanal. THE BLUE LAMP was a key British film of the time, 1950, and is an authentic postwar British classic, directed by the ever-watchable Basil Dearden. We focus on several policemen at a London station, Paddington Green. Jack Warner is Dixon, a veteran bobby on the beat, Jimmy Hanley is the new recruit who looks on Dixon as a father figure (he lodges with Dixon and his wife, Gladys Henson). Dirk Bogarde and Patrick Doonan are the two cheap hoods, who plan a robbery during a cinema visit and Dirk shoots Dixon when he gets in the way.
The cheap hood is finally cornered at the crowded White City Stadium, where police and the underworld come together to catch him - great location shooting. Bogarde is simply electrifying here, one could see he was going places. It is a marvellous look at the London of the time, with the post-war bombsites and the different way of life then, people looking up to and trusting the policemen on the street, keeping an eye on everybody. Shot in an influential semi-documentary style, it paved the way for the later tv cop shows like Z-CARS and Dixon himself was resurrected by the BBC for the long-running series DIXON OF DOCK GREEN. Dirk's spiv period was followed by his war heroes in the early 50s (see reviews of THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM, APPOINTMENT IN LONDON, ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT etc, and then his popular DOCTOR films which made him the 'Idol of the Odeons' before his later more serious films, like those Loseys and others ...

HUNTED, 1952. Another Bogarde spiv role, this is a fascinating Charles Crichton film which never lets up, as it teams a man on the run with a lonely young boy Robbie (little John Whiteley, about 7 here) who, afraid of his stepfather, flees home after setting  the kitchen curtains on fire. He runs into Chris Lloyd (Dirk Bogarde), who's just murdered a man. Chris abducts Robbie and the two go on the run as Lloyd cannot shake the boy off. 
They journey around the country, and a touching and sensitive bond forms between the two fugitives. They end up in Scotland as Lloyd realises he cannot continue with the ill child, so gives himself up. Crichton nicely catches working class life in postwar England, and it’s a gritty but pleasing drama. With Kay Walsh, Elizabeth Sellars, Geoffrey Keen. 
Bogarde and Whiteley were teamed again in the popular THE SPANISH GARDENER in 1956 (Bogarde label). Whiteley is a perfect little boy here in '52, and also starred in that costume favourite, MOONFLEET in 1955. HUNTED could almost be the template for the later TIGER BAY in 1959. 
PAYROLL. A tough, tense thriller which I had not seen since its release in 1961, PAYROLL is a real treat now. Sidney Hayers film shows the exciting robbery and its aftermath as thieves fall out. Ever since THE ASPHALT JUNGLE and RIFFIFI this is the standard gangster robbery drama and it works again here. Nicely set around Newcastle, Johnny Mellor’s band of ruthless criminals plot and carry out a payroll robbery, with the help of crooked company employee Pearson (William Lucas) whose dissatisfied French wife Francoise Prevost soon realises what he is up to. She and Mellor (Michael Craig) are soon plotting to escape together, but had not reckoned on the grieving wife (Billie Whitelaw, excellent as ever) of the van driver who got killed in the robbery. She begins to track them down herself …. With Tom Bell and Kenneth Griffith as other gang members who soon fall out over the money and come to sticky ends. As the police close in, the gang begins to fall apart, with each desperately seeking a way out, and in their panic no one realises there is one adversary they have all overlooked. Pearson’s wife thinks she has the money, but is in for a surprise …. Mellor escapes to his boat but nemesis in the shape of Whitelaw waits for him.
ROBBERY. Peter Yates’ 1967 film is another perfect gangster bank robbery movie, only its not a bank this time, but the mail train our ambitious band of criminals want to rob. Yes, it is a fictional re-creation of the 1963 Great Train Robbery. This is an uncomprising portrayal of Swinging London’s criminal underworld. In an almost documentary style ROBBERY mixes meticulously constructed, high octane action sequences (including one of the best car chases seen on film – before Yates’s next, BULLITT) with taut suspense and gritty realism, making it the template for future thrillers. Stanley Baker is the lead, coolly plotting the robbery, Frank Finlay has to be sprung from prison to oversee the money, then there is Barry Foster, William Marlowe, James Booth as the detective; Joanna Pettet is rather wasted as Baker’s wife but good to see this 60s actress again. 
The robbery is carried out and our gang start counting out the money in their underground hideaway under that deserted airfield. But soon that helicopeter is hovering overhead …. As Finlay made the mistake of calling his wife from a nearby phonebox, alarting the police to activity nearby. It was ever so …. Baker though escapes, as we see in that closing coda in New York.

The Trash item (see Labels) here is ALL COPPERS ARE. Were the '70s really this tacky? A 1970s twist on British cops and robbers, this is now a deliciously sleazy addition to those grubby early ‘70s movies that the British film industry was reduced to. It pits a young policeman Martin Potter against a small-time crook Nicky Henson, as both fall for the same girl, Julia Foster. The cop though is already married … 
Shot around Battersea and Victoria it is a fascinating look at the city then, and the fashions and interior decors of the era are all here too, to laugh at now. Potter – so right in FELLINI SATYRICON is quite ordinary (and a long way from Fellini) here. 
Supporting cast includes young David Essex, Robin Askwith, Sandra Dorne, Queenie Watts and more, and lets not forget Ian Hendry as that gay gangster with his camp boyfriend in tow .... It is an amusing timewaster now, one pities people who paid to see it at the time. Produced by Peter Rogers it has the cheap look of his '70s CARRY ONs; directed by the prolific Sidney Heyers, who did better with PAYROLL (above), CIRCUS OF HORRORS, THE TRAP etc.  

Henson was quite the lad then - those tight trousers are so '70s - as per his randy guest at FAWLTY TOWERS; uncrecognisbably older he was in the last series of DOWNTON ABBEY. He was once married to Una Stubbs, and is the grandson of veteran Gladys Henson, a favourite here. 
Martin Potter is married to Susie Blake, comedienne from the Victoria Wood shows, she was Bev in CORONATION STREET and recently the bitch mother-in-law in MRS BROWN'S BOYS - one of the more surprising show-business unions. 
Julia Foster of course married vet Bruce Fogle and is the mother of Ben Fogle.

These are also interesting London films, as per London label, fitting in with the likes of POOL OF LONDON, IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY, DANCE HALL, SAPPHIRE, VICTIM, WEST 11 and the like ...

Soon: more early Bogarde in PENNY PRINCESS and SO LONG AT THE FAIR, plus late '50s: LIBEL and THE DOCTOR'S DILEMMA / 4 more Bakers: SEA FURY, VIOLENT PLAYGROUND, HELL IS A CITY, THE CRIMINAL and another look at Losey/'s BLIND DATE, 1959. 

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