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"Never Let Go" is a British noir from 1960. It was controversial because of the language and violence, which today's viewers won't even notice.
John Cummings (Richard Todd) is a salesman for a cosmetics firm who isn't doing well. He is told he pushes too hard; that he's not like the "new" types of salesmen coming in. Obviously nervous and desperate to keep his job, John has the look and aura of a loser, and his employer knows it.
Hoping to help his work, Cummings buys a Ford Anglia from Lionel Meadows (Peter Sellers), a crook. Cummings doesn't insure the car and when it's stolen, he's in trouble. His sales kit was in it, he now can't get around, and he'll be paying for it for years with nothing to show for it.
Though he's told he needs to let it go, Cummings won't. He launches his own investigation and runs into violence and the seamier side of London.
The outstanding thing about this film is the performance of Peter Sellers as a vicious criminal, violent, vile, with no empathy. He is outstanding. It's said that people who excel in comedy can do drama, but the reverse isn't always true, and Sellers proves the point here. He's amazing and doesn't hold back, giving a full-out performance.
And he flopped. Why? His fans didn't like the change in image, and neither did the critics. He never did drama again. I am reminded of Tyrone Power's excellent performance in Nightmare Alley that so freaked out Darryl Zanuck that he gave it no publicity and withdrew it from release. In that case, though, the critics liked it, and it finally achieved a cult status. But it goes to show how strong images were back in the day and how uncomfortable people were if you tried to do something else.
This is a gritty, depressing movie about a man who needs to get his car back in order to prove to himself and his wife that he's not a loser, and that he refuses to take what fate gives him. The street thugs show him no mercy, the police aren't interested, and his marriage is in jeopardy. Cummings realizes that no matter the price, he must win -- for himself. The finale is fantastic.
Richard Todd does a wonderful job in an emotional role and shows a wide range. He was one of the many British actors who came to fame around the same time: Stewart Granger, Richard Burton, Dirk Bogarde, Laurence Harvey, Terrence Stamp, etc. Whether it was poor choices in films or what, as good an actor as he was, he never reached the full film star potential that seemed unlimited after "The Hasty Heart."
The photography is top quality noir: offbeat angles, with the use of shadows throughout. The music was that typical '50s music one hears in '50s films, loud and jazzy, the type of thing you always here as someone approaches a cheap club in a sleazy part of town.
A good film, tough and no-holds barred in the noir tradition.
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