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In London, crooked garage owner Lionel Meadows makes extra cash by selling stolen cars. He uses the services of a crew of chop-shop mechanics and relies on teenage hoodlums to steal the cars. Cosmetics salesman John Cummings is struggling to meet his monthly sales targets in order to keep his job. He recently purchased a 1959 Ford Anglia to help him deliver cosmetics samples to department stores. His car is essential to his job. However, young petty thief Tommy Towers steals John's car while it's parked on the street where John works. He delivers the stolen car to Meadows' chop-shop. John reports the theft to the police but the police is slow acting. With pressures at home and at work, John is desperate to recover his stolen vehicle. The police inspector keeps telling him to be patient as most stolen cars are recovered eventually. However, John becomes more and more desperate and impatient to re-claim his car. Against the advice of the police, he sets-out to investigate the matter ...Written by
When this film appeared in 1960, Peter Sellers had become an internationally-acclaimed star of comedies, but had never been seen in a serious drama like this violent thriller. People were so unused to see him playing someone unpleasant and aggressive that the film was a great critical and financial flop. Sellers himself, perhaps defensively, dismissed his performance sarcastically as "my attempt to be Rod Steiger". However, over the years, the film gained a small, but vociferous cult following and Sellers's work in it has been much praised. See more »
About five minutes into the film, Cummings (Richard Todd) is looking for his lost car. One of the shots is "flipped" - you can see the sign for "Berger's Cosmetics", but it's backwards. See more »
Of course, it's Peter Sellers' name which has attracted attention to this little-known film, made at a time when he was trying out some serious acting work in addition to his renowned comedy talent. It must be said that he does pull off a remarkable performance. As the gangster, Meadows, he does a lot more than put on a tough voice and bash a few heads in. He perfectly portrays an outward smoothie, concerned for appearances, a man who doesn't like getting his hands dirty - but underneath is a barely-repressed streak of sadism verging on psychopathic tendencies. There is a remarkably daring scene (for the time) which distinctly adds a sexual dimension to his dominant personality. As he tells Carol White to take her top off, the sound of his breathing and the look in his eyes verge on the shocking, and the fact that it is Peter Sellers performing this, adds to the shock value.
However, Sellers does not upstage the film from Richard Todd who is also cast considerably against type. In films of this period Todd always played the handsome debonair hero, but in a complete reversal Todd here plays what the Americans refer to as a "milquetoast". But again, multidimensionality in the character is beautifully brought out, as Cummings starts to show the obsessive side of his personality. The expository scene in which his wife tells him, as gently as she can, that he has always been a failure, and that getting the car back would not, as he claims, solve all their problems, is beautifully handled by Todd and Elizabeth Sellars as his long-suffering wife.
This film, an X-Certificate upon release (equivalent to 18 or NC-17 certificates today) doesn't shirk from showing the execution and effects of violence. One scene, in which Todd gets badly beaten up by David Lodge (of all people), must have represented a very early usage of amplifying the sound of a fist hitting a torso for the purposes of magnifying the horror. This scene remains effective over forty years later. As a result of this, the film acquires a beautiful sense of unpredictability. There's clearly going to be a showdown between Cummings and Meadows, but the film very effectively adds to the suspense by a long sequence in which Cummings in a cafe and Meadows in his penthouse flat are both shown waiting for it - without any clue tipped to the audience as to what finally will happen. John Barry's score is very effective, if a trifle old fashioned, in heightening the tension - Barry's trademark chord progressions are still a way off in the future.
De Sarigny and Guillermin put together a brilliant script, two wonderfully talented actors and superlative direction to create a great British noir movie which should be more widely known.
Incidentally, for young Harry Potter fans who think the car in "The Chamber of Secrets" was made up, here is the proof that the Ford Anglia really did exist, all the way back to 1959 (although sadly it doesn't fly) - here an example of one is the cause of all the trouble.
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