“ Genre: Drama / Theatrical Release: 1954 / Parental Guidance / Director: Lewis Gilbert / Actors: Laurence Harvey, Gloria Grahame, Stanley Baker, Margaret Leighton, Joan Collins ... / DVD released 2004-09-06 at Wienerworld Ltd / Features of the DVD: PAL „
Three men, Joe, Eddie and Mike, are in desperate need of money for different reasons. Joe is married to an actress who is unfaithful to him and has gone AWOL as a result. Eddie wants to return to his native America with his wife, who is very attached to her mother. Mike is an ex-boxer who has had his hand amputated and can't find a job. They bump into 'Rave' Ravenscroft, who is married to a rich woman who refuses to give him money to pay his gambling debts. He suggests a heist to solve all their money problems. Will the heist go smoothly? Will they ever be able to lead the lives they would like to lead?
There are a host of famous actors in this 1954 film made at Shepperton Studios in the UK and directed by Lewis Gilbert (who also directed the brilliantly moving Carve Her Name With Pride). Perhaps sadly, the worst performance comes from the actor who is top of the bill - Laurence Harvey, who plays Rave. Rave is not a likeable character in any case and that, coupled with the wooden acting that Harvey gives, does not come across at all well. Thankfully, the rest of the cast more than make up for any deficits in Harvey's performance. My favourite was Richard Basehart, who plays Joe. He loves his wife and simply wants to return to the States with her and is infuriated at the bad behaviour of her mother. Basehart gives a really heartfelt performance and deserves great praise for the role. As does a very young and barely recognisable, Joan Collins who plays his wife.
Stanley Baker is also superb as Mike. He stops boxing because his wife can't bear his constantly being in danger, but then loses his hand because of an injury. He is further devastated when his wife's brother escapes the country with all his savings. Even the love of his wife isn't enough to make up for all of this. Baker seems to throw his all in the role and it really shows. Canadian actor John Ireland plays Eddie in what seems to me to be an average performance. I should have felt sympathy for Eddie, his wife is a cheat and yet he loves her very much. Nevertheless, I ended up disliking him; somehow Ireland didn't pull the role off well enough.
One of the best things about this film, other than the acting, is that each character is given plenty of time to develop - and considering there are so many characters and the film isn't overly long, that is no mean feat. We know from the beginning that the four men are going to be involved in a criminal act; what we don't know is why they found themselves in that position in the first place and that is exactly what the film sets out to tell us. In that process, all of the characters come to life, for better or worse, and it is this that makes this film work so well. In many heist films, the characters almost become faceless because we simply don't have the chance to get to know them well enough.
I also really liked the story. It was a relatively simple one, there is no long, complicated explanation of how the heist is to take place - they are simply going to rob a postal van. More modern films tend to go into a lot of detail about how the crime is going to be done - perhaps at least partly because technological advances have made it more complicated. However, I much prefer the simple touch, which is perhaps why we are given the opportunity to get to know the characters so well. All in all, it worked really well and I found myself compelled to find out what was going to happen next.
The film is over fifty years old and, as such, cannot be expected to be as well-made as the films of today. For a start, it is in black and white, which may put some off. I had no problem with this though and thought that the lack of colour strengthened the feeling of doom. The quality of the film, even on DVD, is clear enough, but there is evidence that the film is old. Again, it didn't put me off, but might influence some who struggle with anything that isn't twenty-first century clear. And of course, there are no clever special effects, but then again, I'm not sure any were needed. The acting and story were strong enough on their own.
There aren't, unfortunately, any extras with the DVD that I have. Scene selection is the only feature other than the film itself. I was a little disappointed - I would have liked some insight into Shepperton Studios if nothing else.
I thoroughly enjoyed this film, which is proof that sometimes simple is best. The fact that it is old, black and white, and you may not have heard of any of the actors doesn't mean that it should be overlooked. This is a quality British film that deserves to be better known than it is. And there is no swearing or inappropriate behaviour, making it suitable for all the family. Recommended.
The DVD is available from play.com for an outrageous £9.99. However, I bought my copy from Poundland, so look out for it there.
Running time: 94 minutes