Thursday, May 5, 2016

Never Let Go (1960) Seedy Brit Noir

Directed by John Guillermin, written by John Guillermin (story), Peter De Sarigny (story) and Alun Falconer screenplay. The film stars Richard Todd as John Cummings, Peter Sellers as Lionel Meadows, Elizabeth Sellars as Anne Cummings, Adam Faith as Tommy Towers, Carol White as
Jackie, Mervyn Johns as Alfie Barnes, Noel Willman as Inspector Thomas, David Lodge as Cliff,
Peter Jones as Alec Berger, John Bailey as MacKinnon, and Nigel Stock as Regan.

Cinematography was by Christopher Challis. Music by the great John Barry (Body Heat (1981), Hammett (1982)) this was his first film score.

"What makes a Noir/Neo Noir Film is an individual internal factor. It's subjectivity. Noir is in all of us. Think of us all as having an internal tuning fork, these tuning forks are forged by our life experiences which are all basically unique. When we watch these films their degree of Noir-ness resonates with us differently, so we either "tune" to them or we don't. The amount of "tuning" (I'm appropriating this term from the Neo Noir Dark City (1998)) to certain films will vary between us all also."

wrecking yard
Never Let Go is a "tuning" case in point. My wife's step father owned and ran a wrecking yard in Montana. He had a mild heart attack and wasn't able to continue with his business until he recovered. I was laid off at the time and volunteered to help out doing the grunt work. I barely knew anything about cars but I learned fast. I got to the point where I could pull a motor in twenty minutes. We used to buy non running junkers for either $50 for cars or $100 for pickups as long as they had titles. Then we'd part them out, taking the high ticket items, i.e., the carburetors, starters, generators/alternators, radiators and batteries and shelve them. The remainder we'd put in rows segregated by make. So we'd have a section called Chevyland, Dodgeland, Buickland, Fordland, etc., etc. This was back in late 1970s early 1980s so there were even some Studebakers, Nash, and Ramblers. These sections were "walk around" for the customers to see available body parts, trim, and glass. I know the background setup for the film. Previously the only Classic Noir that I readily recall having a wrecking yard sequence was The Big Heat (1953).

MacKinnon (Bailey)
Never Let Go is about the auto wrecking/salvage business, I guess called auto "breakers"/salvage in the UK, but an illegal aspect of it. When a late model car is wrecked it's title is saved and the car's engine number, chassis number, and body serial plates are transferred to a stolen car which is then resold under the wrecked cars title. Lionel Meadows (Sellers) is the kingpin of an auto theft ring. Titles are collected from wrecks by MacKinnon (Bailey), make, model, and year are put on a list. This list is given to Lionel who then gives the list to his boys who then steal the exact matches. These cars are then driven to Reagan's (Stock) auto body shop where the serial numbers are changed and the cars repainted to match the wrecked titles. The altered cars are then driven to Meadows Garage and sold.

Lionel (Sellers) and MacKinnon (Bailey) cash for titles
John Cummings (Todd) is a milquetoast barely making ends meet as a London cosmetics salesman. He works for Berger and Co. He has a doting wife two children, a boy and a girl. Lives in a high rise Council House. Two weeks ago they bought a brand new Anglica that John used for his sales rounds. One night he stops at Berger for a few hours to do some paperwork before heading home. While inside his car is pinched by Tommy Towers (Faith) who drives it to Reagan's (Stock) auto shop, where it will be altered.

Tommy Towers (Faith) about to steal the Anglica
The Anglica is gone. John Cummings (Todd)
Anne Cummings (Sellars)
John is devastated, he didn't get it insured for theft, just third party risk. He asks the corner newsstand man Alfie (Johns) if he saw anything. Alfie says no but John is not convinced because Alfie notices everything. John goes to the police. They tell him that 80% of stolen cars are recovered, but also that stolen vehicles not found within forty-eight hours stand little chance of being found. He goes home to tell his wife about the loss. John tries to get by but his sales suffer from having to use public transportation and as a result he is missing appointments. He gets demoted and sacked. John is desperate and he becomes obsessed with investigating the theft. He goes back to Alfie's apartment. After getting on the old man's good side by admiring Alfie's pet fish and terrapin, Alfie tells John that Tommy Towers took it and that he hangs out at the Victory Cafe.

Alfie (Johns)  his fish bowl and John
When John arrives at the Victory Cafe he finds Towers hanging around with his chums and a cute blond named Jackie (White) who is dancing at a juke box. As John watches them, a 1956 Oldsmobile 88 drives up outside and someone lays on the horn. Jackie grabs her coat and runs out. John confronts Towers who denies any wrongdoing.

The next day Alfie's flop is trashed. John calls the police. Alfie doesn't talk, but an associate of Towers sees the police at Alfie's. He tells Towers who in turn tells Meadows about the "nob" (John) who is asking questions.

Lionel (Sellers), Jackie (White), Tommy (Faith)
Meadows asks how did this happen. Tommy tells him that Alfie saw him steal it. Meadows gets pissed that Tommy stole a car within five miles of the garage. He slams his hand in the lid of a phonograph. Meadows then drives over in the '56 Olds to see Alfie himself. John standing outside sees it's the same car that was at the Victory Cafe. Meadows threatens Alfie dumping his fish bowl and stomping on his terrapin. Alfie, his whole world gone, gasses himself to death. John puts two and two together and informs the police. The police head to Meadows Garage and confront him with Johns accusations about the Anglica theft and that he was the last man to see Alfie.

John's wife wants him to forget about trying to get the car back. She's becoming distressed about his actions, actions which she, in a backhanded way, ignited. She told John that he was always chasing pipe dreams that he never caught and made reality. That sets John off, determined to "never let go" until he gets his Anglica back.

John's obsession and alienation from his wife increases steadily throughout the remainder of the film. This change is convincingly well acted by Todd who goes from soggy milquetoast to hard crust burnt toast. Peter Sellers though is practically unrecognizable. His Meadows character looks like his pudgy evil twin. He's frighteningly different, very twisted from the comedic Sellers we are used to. He sports a push-broom mustache. He is petty, vicious, vile, and has the facade of an outwardly polite charmer. Meadows pseudo smiles, only with his mouth not his eyes. He's a fastidious over the top neat freak, complaining about Jackie's untidiness, placing coasters under drink glasses and ranting about lit cigarettes left on veneer. He also has a sexual sadistic kink with his mistress Jackie. He's a pressure cooker slowly building as things in his little world go awry. He has startlingly violent outbursts. Like a safety valve he's letting off steam, but it's not helping, you know there will be the inevitable explosion as he rages on about the "little nob, lipstick salesman" , and how he's going to "kill him. put him in his car, and burn it!"

Outwardly calm Meadows
Meadows sexual sadist
Never Let Go builds nicely to an inevitable showdown punctuated by John Barry's score. It's what a noir should be, about interesting small time characters and simple conflicts that spiral bizarrely of control. Screencaps are camera images from paused frames of a recent TCM showing, but there is an MGM DVD out there. Bravo 9/10


No comments:

Post a Comment