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DVD Review

DVD cover

The Criminal (1960)


Starring: Stanley Baker, Sam Wanamaker, Grégoire Aslan and Margit Saad
Distributor: StudioCanal
Certificate: 12
Release Date: 16 September 2019

Joseph Losey directs a gritty, harsh crime drama that hybridizes many story elements of Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing (1956) and its own filmic progenitor John Huston’s Asphalt Jungle (1951). Stanley Baker comes out of British hard time prison with a failsafe robbery plan at a race track, which it proves to be. It comes off so easily we don’t even get to see it. The problem is the underworld factions swirling around Baker are overcome with greed and the double-crossing is multiplied. What makes this derivative potboiler more than just that, is its dogged dedication to style of story telling and the choice of talent front and back of the camera.

Losey’s cinematographer, Robert Krasker, strives for a beautifully sterile B & W semi-documentary guise that is really just a pretext for its unflinching deep focus, expressionistic angles straight out of UFA, chiaroscuro lighting – though never as obvious as a John Alton film – and slamming close-ups drenched with sweaty character. This is the DP who won an Oscar for The Third Man (1949) and should have won another for the earlier Odd Man Out (1947) and would go on to shoot the visual masterpiece Senso (1954) for Luchino Visconti. Krasker with Losey give us a combustion of brutality and threat even when violence doesn’t explode. When it does, it’s fast, business-like and brutal without swish-pan shake ‘n’ bake cheats and bollox whim-wham so common today. Losey and Krasker know they’re in well trodden territory and the only way to keep it gripping is style and passionately believable actors.

And the cast is pro all down the line. Minor characters are major talents. Ras Prince Monolulu, Patrick Wymark, Nigel Green, Murray Melvin, Edward Judd, Rupert Davies and the immortal Patrick Magee. All play with intestinal truth. Method mannerisms be damned. No eyebrow stroking, ear tugging or morose staring off into middle space. No goo-goo heavy Stanislavsky. If somebody pulled Actors Studio shite in this jungle it would eat them alive and laugh while chewing.

The soundtrack composed and conducted by John Dankworth – most Brits know him as Johnny or Sir John Phillip William Dankworth, CBE who owned and hosted the most famous jazz club in England – is pure British progressive jazz. Vocalist for the prison ballad Thieving Boy is none other than the love of Dankworth’s life, Cleo Laine. This legend, known for her pristine diction and sultry delivery, is worth a side-trip that may musically seduce you from what you had planned for a day or two. Take the trip (

The screenplay is credited to Alun Owen, a veteran, but the eminent Jimmy Sangster is said to have provided an uncredited assist. Their blunt force succinctness is consonant with the look and narrative pace. But the whole work represents Losey coming into his own, a stranger in a strange land after he and others scarpered out of Hollywood because Senator Joe McCarthy and his fix-it boy, Roy Cohn, made their lives a nightmare with the House Unamerican Activity Committee’s near decade of hell. Talk about underworld factions greedy for power. Film artists like Losey who found haven abroad (such as Jules Dassin, Cy Endfield, Sam Wanamaker) found the underworld of movie criminality a fitting paradigm for the political thuggery they had fled. Losey’s work was dissed forever in the mockingbird patriotic media. I don’t include Paul Robeson in the list above because he never worked in a movie about criminals, he was just branded a criminal by American establishment consensus.

This movie can’t not entertain you. It’s that good. And true to their corporate mission, StudioCanal has given us not just a refurbished reprint but a technological work of perfection. It looks and sounds better than on its first day of release nearly sixty years ago. Deservedly so. It’s not an anachronism; it deserves to be handed down across the folds of fashion, fifteen minutes of fame and relative contemporaneity. It imprisons your disbelief from first frame to last and sentences you to contemplate the futility of overweening greed. Not bad and not sophomorically sermonic either. Not bad at all. The last scene ends in a huge snowy field with flashy gangsters in spiv suits digging for stolen money they haven’t a snowball’s chance in hell to find. I rest my case.


John Huff

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