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I recently watched this movie in a newly made print with German subtitles during an Austrian film festival which showed a retrospective of the work of Wolf Suschitzky, the D.O.P. of this movie. Though 95 years old, he was present and I asked him afterward about the superb quality of the picture with "the blacks as real blacks and the whites glaringly white". It was probably shot with English Ilford stock of low sensitivity. Suschitzky pointed out that the most important thing is the quality of the print material and how experienced labs can handle this. I recommend this movie for anyone seriously interested in black and white film work and for getting moody, well-lit images in a real naturalistic location. Suschitzky tried to avoid bare grays so the grain won't show and even under night conditions there are parts overexposed and therefore white. Overall this movie has a great speed made-up of daring images, a superb jazz soundtrack and fast editing. Fortunately, it doesn't have a hand-held look, every image is carefully lit and composed. It is an enjoyable journey into the live of a very nervous and hasty man who doesn't seem to get anything right and instead is digging into trouble deeper and deeper. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be available on DVD right now so watch out for the cinema experience.
Made and released in 1963, this film gave Newley a real meaty role instead of the light comedy, musical roles he was usually cast in. The original BBC play was a one man, one scene event, but the full Soho, London locations gave the film a more murky, underworld feel and you really felt for Sammy Lee, although you realised he was his own worst enemy! Beautifully photographed in black and white, atmospheric and with Newley at his acting best. Well worth a viewing. Excellent support from Wilfred Brambell (Steptoe) as Newley/Sammy's dresser, and Julia Foster putting in a suitable innocent performance as the love interest who has fallen for Sammy's charms (lies).
I was engaged by the U.S. Distributor, Seven Arts Films, to
produce a trailer for the film. Notwithstanding that both the film and
my trailer were quite good, it did not enjoy good box office. Seven
arts changed the title to "The Small VIOLENT World of Sammy
Lee", had me do a new, more action oriented trailer, and they
rereleased it under that title. It did somewhat better in that
incarnation, but was still not the blockbuster they had hoped it
As an additional aside, in addition to the BBC t.v. play, there was a U.S. version of the television show, as well. If memory serves, it starred Mickey Rooney.
I saw this upon its original release in 1963 and loved. Never having being able to see it again I was sorry to miss it at a rare BFI Southbank showing last year and now here it is on DVD. To be honest, I remember enjoying it despite its gambling debt theme but now find this an annoyance. The b/w cinematography is still wonderful and this is a great portrayal of early 60s Soho, when it was more Jewish and Italian than Chinese and gay as it is now. Later in the 60s I was old enough to visit pubs and music venues and recall that older prostitutes still stood on the corners, though not anymore. There is still a buzz to the place and the street layout is unchanged but it doesn't have quite that jump and dare accurately depicted here. Newley is excellent in the central role and is well supported by Wilfred Brambell and Julia Foster.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Anthony Newley is perfectly cast as Sammy Lee in this forgotten gem of a movie. Sammy is one of those downtrodden characters that inhabit Film Noir and many crime dramas of the period. He's smart, but not quite clever enough to overcome the obstacles he encounters over and over. Although it's mostly his own fault--Sammy is a bit more of a taker than a giver--we can feel sympathy for his human plight thanks to Newley's finely wrought performance. The beautifully photographed film makes use of West End locations, showing us real streets and facades (some of which surely no longer exist), to create Sammy's world. The title was probably not an advantage when it was released, but it does suggest the way the film is conceived. We never see anything outside Sammy's neighborhood: he lives across from the Peepshow Club, where he works as a comic emcee. This is Sammy's world (the tawdry, downbeat atmosphere of the club and its denizens is a major factor) a purgatory in which he thinks he can win the constant game he has going with richer, smarter and tougher players. The main plot concerns Sammy's attempt to raise 300 pounds to pay off a debt to a mysterious unseen entity called "Connor". Connor has henchmen, and they are quickly dispatched when Sammy admits he doesn't have the money that's coming due. Surprisingly, the main henchman is sympathetic to Sammy's pleadings and gives him several hours to scrape up the cash. It's great fun to watch Sammy's machinations as he works towards this end. There is suspense, high drama and heartbreak in this story, all excellently played out. Among the cast are Wilfrid Brambell (later, Paul's grandfather in A HARD DAY'S NIGHT), Robert Stephens, Julia Foster and a host of marvelous character actors. A melancholy, jazz-flavored score by Kenny Graham seems a perfect complement to the mood and the visuals.
This film portrays exactly how it was in Soho in the sixties and having worked in Soho during that period i can easily identify with the streets and establishments shown throughout the film . The story of this film is so credible , as , from experience , the plot defines exactly how it was around that time . I do know that it was precisely what used to happen in the sixties and later . What a treat to see the actual environment for what it was and not to be limited to studio scenery . Newley is at his brilliant best here and is the ideal candidate for this type of role. Wilfrid Brambell also shows his talents as a straight actor in this film although many people only associate him with comedy roles . Wilfrid really shines as Sammy's errand boy here , what a pity we haven't seen him in more 'straight' roles over the years . Poor Julia Foster , she also plays a blinder in this one too . She is so smitten with Sammy and refuses to admit that there cannot be any future between them as they really have completely different lifestyles . All in all , i think this film is so true to life that the Producer really does deserve an award , not only for the storyline but for casting the correct actors to portray the right roles in this.
This is a big screen version of a BBC TV play. Anthony Newley, whose string of Top 20 pop hits had just come to an end, puts in a surprisingly good performance as Sammy Lee, a strip club compère whose gambling debts land him in trouble with gangsters. Newley was a quirky actor and takes some getting used to. Always nice to see Julia Foster who plays a doting innocent, and there are memorable cameos from Warren Mitchell and Miriam Karlin as his brother and his sister-in-law. Set before strip clubs and gambling were entirely lawful, the film is in black-and-white which enhances the period atmosphere. Jazz fans may care to note that the original music is composed by tenor saxist Kenny Graham.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Mr A.Newley was an actor,singer,writer,lyricist supreme.Not a Jack, of All Trades,rather a Master of All Trades - a true Renaisssance Man of the English Theatre. The term "National Treasure" is bandied about and bestowed upon almost anybody who appears a lot on TV,but Mr Newley was truly a National Treasure before the concept was invented. He stole films from stars as diverse as Robert Mitchum and Rex Harrison and was so good in the 1986 remake of "Stagecoach" that he was hustled out of the story at the halfway mark for fear of appropriating Messrs Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash's thunder. "The small world of Sammy Lee" dates from a time when he was peaking with"Stop the world,I want to get off",which he co - wrote and starred in. Set in a Soho surrounded by members of the first and second oldest professions,a world long bulldozed and speculated out of existence,he plays Sammy Leeman, a third - rate gambler and chancer who is being chased over a debt by some old - school villains. As always Mr Newley dominates the screen by sheer force of personality,a slick,silver - tongued womaniser,the sort of man considered today perhaps as pond - life for his attitudes(see Laurence Harvey in "Expresso Bongo" made in much the same milieu). Today it can be seen as a beautifully photographed,tightly directed minor masterpiece about a hustler on the run and talked of in the same breath as Jules Dassin's 1948 "Night and the city",itself an acknowledged classic of the genre. Nobody in it thought for a minute they were doing anything but a routine low - budget Soho movie,but by that curious alchemy that occasionally affects films with humble ambitions(see Mr Newley's "Idol on Parade")"The Small World of Sammy Lee" emerged as at least the equal of many British New Wave films of the era that have received extravagant praise for the last half - century sometimes out of proportion to their merits. If Tony Richardson or Lindsay Anderson had made it,it would be up there on the pantheon.
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