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kingrat

Losey's The Criminal (1960)

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Joseph Losey's THE CRIMINAL (1960), shown recently on TCM, looked gorgeous, with cinematography by Robert Krasker of THE THIRD MAN fame. This is a powerful Brit noir that I liked even better than Losey's American noir THE PROWLER, also shown in a fine restoration. Stanley Baker stars as Johnny Bannion, a convicted thief who's about to get out of prison. When he does, he pulls another heist and soon enough is back in stir, but an even more powerful crime boss wants him out so that Johnny can return to the loot he's buried.

 

In America the film was re-titled THE CONCRETE JUNGLE, apparently in an attempt to cash in on THE ASPHALT JUNGLE. That's not a bad title, either, because most of the film is set in prison. Stanley Baker is sensational, but there are perhaps 20 developed characters, many of them fellow prisoners. His buddy in prison is played by Brian Phelan, who looks like Lyle Lovett. The movie is all about power struggles. This is a Darwinian dog-eat-dog world with few sympathetic characters. One critic has noted that Losey's films rarely include loving relationships. The prison scenes contain hints of dominant/submissive homosexual pairs, such as the bald-headed prisoner and his pal. To go from this film to THE SERVANT is less of a stretch than you might think.

 

MissWonderly, here's a quick overview of Losey's career (ChiO , Mr. Arkadin, and Dewey1960 could do this better, but here goes): He began as a stage director. His first films, THE BOY WITH GREEN HAIR and THE LAWLESS, were problem dramas, but his 50s films are mostly crime films. His associations with the Communist Party got him blacklisted, but he found work in England. Some of the French auteurists championed his work. One of his most personal films, EVE (in the U.S., EVA) with Jeanne Moreau, was re-cut by the producers, and the most complete version known to exist has been found in Scandinavia. When he filmed two original screenplays by Harold Pinter, THE SERVANT (1964) and ACCIDENT (1967), the intelligentsia in England accepted him, and this tended to confirm his auteurist status in America. He then made two, um, unusual films with Elizabeth Taylor, SECRET CEREMONY (recently shown on TCM Underground) and BOOM! (which has also been on Underground), which some regard as camp. He and Pinter teamed up for an adaptation of L.P. Hartley's novel THE GO-BETWEEN (1971), which was perhaps his last hit in this country. THE GO-BETWEEN might be described as Merchant/Ivory with a tricky time scheme and thus artier. After this time, the British film industry collapsed, and some of Losey's subsequent work was done in France.

 

Of his work I've seen and would recommend THE CRIMINAL, THE SERVANT, THE PROWLER, and THE GO-BETWEEN, though I wouldn't expect everyone to like all of them. ACCIDENT seems to me more like "fancy kitsch" (Pauline Kael's words) than like the masterpiece some English critics proclaimed it at the time, but that moment may have been the peak of the reputations of both Losey and Harold Pinter. Stanley Baker is a hoot cast against type as a bitchy academic. It's been years since I've seen SECRET CEREMONY, which has lovely color cinematography but might not be as strong in the intellectual and emotional departments. I believe TCM has shown all of these, as well as THE BOY WITH GREEN HAIR, THE LAWLESS, THE SLEEPING TIGER, BLIND DATE, THE GYPSY AND THE GENTLEMAN, BOOM! and THE DAMNED (THESE ARE THE DAMNED).

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Very nice summation, KR. I have a number of Losey's films (including The Criminal, but which I haven't watched yet) and need to re-submerge myself in them. If *The Criminal* is anywhere near The Prowler, then I must do this soon. Losey said that *The Prowler* was his favorite film from his early (U.S.) period and that *The Criminal* was his favorite British movie. *M* is the one I am most curious about.

 

In the "But Is It Really Meaningful" category, Losey and Nicholas Ray were both born in and attended (though two years apart) the same school in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Is it the weather, water, or beer?

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kingrat, thanks for that informative (and nicely written) overview of Joseph Losey's work. I have seen, as I mentioned, *The Servant*, and I was thinking as I read your description of *The Criminal/The Concrete Jungle* how it sounded as though it had similarities to that film. Which you of course suggest as well.

 

I regret that I missed TCM's screening of *The Criminal*; sounds like it's well worth seeing.

 

I've always meant to catch *The Boy with Green Hair* (which TCM actually shows quite often), but somehow I always miss it. T*he Secret Ceremony* -0 I'm pretty sure that's in one of my cult film books, I'll have to double check. As for *Accident*, I have seen that, but so long ago it hardly counts; I can remember very little about it, except it's got something to do with some fine English family mansion, and it's very Harold Pinterish.

 

Since Losey's work is not screened a lot on TCM (for whatever reasons - i don't want to get into that), I should watch out for his stuff when it is.

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