By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Maybe crime does pay.
James Brewster (Alan Bates) is a young ambitious man who will do anything to not only climb the corporate ladder, but raise his social standing as well. He works at a large company and finds things tough. Everyone else is competing for the same thing and James finds himself being boxed out and unable to get the attention and recognition he feels he deserves. Then he meets Charles (Denholm Elliot) a master con-man and forger and he realizes the only way to move up is by doing it the criminal way. The two move in together where Charles teaches James all the tricks of the trade. James becomes so good at it that he realizes he no longer needs Charles so he murders him and stuffs his body inside a large trunk, which he has hidden. Then he becomes engaged to the beautiful Ann Horton (Milicent Martin), but her extended family has connections he is not aware of, which could put a kink to his otherwise lofty plans.
The screenplay was written by Frederic Raphael who has had a distinguished career in screenwriting including penning the script to Stanley Kubrick’s last film Eyes Wide Shut. Although there really isn’t any one particularly funny moment and some of the criminal activity is a bit complex and hard-to-follow the dialogue is still snappy and the less than honorable characters surprisingly engaging. Clive Donner’s direction gives the proceedings a breezy pace and the characterizations of the upper British crust are on-target and fun.
Elliot, who is one of the best character actors ever and had a long and distinguished career playing a wide variety of them, is terrific. Somehow this guy has always had an ability to make conniving, immoral people engaging, funny and even somewhat likable and his part here is no exception. His presence is a major plus and helps give the film its drive and it’s a shame he couldn’t have remained through the whole duration. I also enjoyed Pauline Delaney as James’s landlady Mrs. March who becomes aware of his illegal activity and extorts sex out of him in order to keep quiet.
There are a couple of twists at the end that are interesting, but not what you expect. James never really gets the comeuppance that you think he should, which to some degree is disappointing, but on the other hand kind of refreshing. We are so used to seeing films have a moral theme of some kind where bad guys are eventually punished and justice prevails that having one pretty much get away with it is intriguing simply for its novelty.
The color on the print I watched was horribly faded making it look almost like a cheap computer colorized attempt even though it really wasn’t. This film, which was widely hailed by critics and audiences alike, deserves a Criterion release and a thorough restoration and I am shocked that it hasn’t already.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: March 10, 1964
Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes
Director: Clive Donner
Studio: Royal Films International
Available: None at this time.