Tag Archives: Joseph Losey

Sexy Beast: the last good British gangster film

KingsleyOkay, I’m calling it. Sexy Beast is the last good British gangster film.

I was reminded of just how good a film Sexy Beast is – and how anaemic and derivative just about every single Brit gangster film made since is in comparison – after re-watching it on the weekend.

Gary ‘Gal’ Dove (Ray Winstone) is a retired safecracker now living the good life with his illegal proceeds in a Spanish villa with his ex-porn star wife, Deedee (Amanda Dove). Gal wants to do nothing more than sit in the sun with Deedee, and fellow London underworld refugees, Aitch (Cavan Kendall) and Aitch’s wife, Jackie (Julianne White).

Their peaceful life is thrown into complete chaos with the arrival of former underworld associate, Don Logan (a stellar turn by Ben Kingsley), a foul mouthed, psychotic gangster, who has come on behalf London crime lord Teddy Bass (Ian McShane), to recruit Gal to help pull a heist Bass is planning.

Gal wants no part in the job, setting the scene for a gradually escalating series of confrontations between he and Logan, who simply will not take no for an answer. Logan’s attempts to bully Gal to take part in the job start humourlessly enough but soon escalate, first in a wave of expletive laden threats, then rehashing the sordid underworld pasts of Deedee and Jackie.… Read more

The 10 essential films of Stanley Baker

Stanley Baker in Val Guest's 1960 thriller Hell Is a City.Welsh born actor Stanley Baker didn’t live to see his 50th birthday, but he left an impressive body of work. Like his friend Richard Burton, he escaped life as a coalminer for acting after a chance sighting in a school play by the casting director of Ealing Studios led to Baker’s first role in the 1943 war drama, Undercover. His rugged physique and hard grace meant he was most often cast as the tough guy in crime movies and spearheaded the evolution of the British film criminal from the gentlemen thief to more ruthless figures, often working-class, in films such Hell Drivers (1957), Joseph Losey’s The Criminal and Peter Yate’s 1967 heist film, Robbery.

Last weekend he would have been 88, were he still alive. To mark his career, I have a piece on the British Film Institute site looking at his 10 essential films. You can read it in full here.

Trumbo, Red scares & the art of writing in the bath

Trumbo bath tubI’ve been eagerly awaiting the Australian release of Jay Roach’s Trumbo, the biopic of the late Hollywood screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo. It touches on two interests of mine: post-war US film history, particularly the events around the Hollywood blacklist, and the process of writing.

Based on Dalton Trumbo, a biography by Bruce Cook, the film is roughly split into two parts. The first deals with the events leading up to and around the House of Un-American Activities Committee hearings into communist influence in Hollywood. Trumbo, played well enough by Bryan Cranston, is a novelist turned screenwriter and one of many high profile members of the Hollywood movie community swept up in the hysteria around the hearings. A former Communist Party member and fellow traveler, he is also unashamedly rich as a result of his writing, the ‘swimming pool socialist’ as he is referred to at one point in the film. Trumbo’s politics are interesting in the light of claims I have read that the film, which took eight years to make, was a hard sell because its main subject was too left wing. Called to testify before Committee he resisted considerable pressure to name other fellow travelers and, as result, was black listed from working in Hollywood and given an eleven-month jail sentence for contempt of Congress.… Read more

Adventures in noir land

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It has been a while since I’ve posted here on Pulp Curry. This is because I’ve spent the last few weeks travelling in the US. I spent time in New York and Washington DC. I also visited the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, the home of Edgar Allen Poe, David Goodis and, every two years, one of the most interesting literary festivals I have experienced, NoirCon.

NoirCon is not your common or garden-variety festival. No way. And that is a very good thing.

First of all, the focus is firmly on noir, mainly fiction, but also film, poetry or whatever (and that last category, ‘whatever’, encapsulates some pretty bizarre material). I’m not saying there’s not a place for broader events that include a wider range of contributors and crime fiction sub-genres. But it’s also great to sit in a room of people who are, for once, more or less, all on the same page in terms of their love of noir, and not have to feel you have to justify or explain the focus.

Second, although it’s not exactly an exclusive event, neither does it try to be any bigger than need be. I get the feeling that while organiser, Lou Boxer, does his best to come up with new presenters and topics, he’s happy for the event not to get out of control or stray beyond the noir remit.… Read more

Hell Drivers

Hell Drivers poster01When we think classic noir cinema, we usually think of America. But in the forties, fifties and sixties, Britain produced its share of great noirs.

The British noirs I’ve seen are dark, brutal affairs, perhaps even more uncompromising than their American counterparts because of their depiction of the UK’s all pervasive and claustrophobic class system. Films like Brighton Rock (1949), The Third Man (1949), Basil Dreaden’s heist film, The League of Gentlemen and John Guillermin’s Never Let Go (which both came out in 1960) and the terrific Joseph Losey movie starring Dirk Bogarde, The Servant (1963).

But without doubt one of the best and toughest of the crop of post-war British noirs was Cy Endfield’s 1957 film, Hell Drivers. From the very beginning, the view from the cabin of a truck being driven at dangerously high speed, The Hell Drivers brims with pent up fury.

The plot of Hell Drivers is fairly simple. Tom (Stanley Baker) plays a young working class man fresh out of jail following a botched heist that crippled his brother (David McCallum) and left him with a huge burden of guilt. He takes a job at Hawlett Trucking Company. The work involves him driving a ten tonne truck to a gravel pit, loading gravel, and transporting it to a new construction site, as quickly and as many times a day as they can.… Read more