This 1960 crime drama, directed by John Guillermin from a script by Alun Falconer, is best known for a rare straight performance from Peter Sellers as the monstrous Lionel Meadows, but repeated viewings show that really it is about Richard Todd's character, John Cummings, and his obsessive pursuit of Meadows, even to the point of destroying his family and home.
Todd plays an ordinary man, with a wife and two children, who works as a salesman for Berger & Co, a cosmetics firm, but in the first scene after the credits we see his car stolen by Tommy Towers (Adam Faith) and his mates, witnessed by Alfie Barnes (Mervyn Johns), an old codger who sells newspapers on the street corner. Tommy has stolen the car to order on behalf of Lionel Meadows (Sellers), who runs a legitmate garage business which is a front for an organised car theft racket.
That would normally be that (although it would make for a very short film) but Cummings needs the car (which he has only just bought) for his job, and he unwisely decided not to fully insure it. Already in trouble at work due to falling sales, and being outperformed by one of his smarmy arse-licking co-workers, things go from bad to worse for our everyman hero as he starts turning up very late for appointments, leading to a warning from his boss (Peter Jones) to buck up his ideas or start looking for another job.
He therefore decides to investigate himself, and after speaking to Alfie gets a lead on Tommy Towers; in this scene he takes the bull by the horns to see what information he can get from the young hoodlum:
Sellers is, in my view, quite excellent as the menacing and overbearing Meadows. With Cliff (David Lodge) as his right hand thug, Jackie (Carol White) as his mistress and Regan (Nigel Stock) on the payroll as the garage hand who resprays all the stolen cars for resale, he has a nice little empire going, ruled by violence and intimidation. Jackie is really Tommy's girlfriend, who has been pulled out of the gutter by Meadows, but she resents him constantly reminding her of that fact. In this scene Jackie and Tommy's relationship is revealed, as is just how nasty Meadows is:
As if that wasn't enough evidence of Meadows' unpleasantness, there is a particularly nasty scene where he bullies poor old Alfie (Mervyn Johns, left), whom he knows has given Cummings the initial information to set him off on his trail, hitting upon the one thing that Alfie cares about, his terrapins...
Cummings, meanwhiile, sinks further into the abyss as he loses his job, and harasses the local police Inspector to do something about Meadows, taking the law into his own hands at one point and getting a beating from Cliff for his pains. My DVD copy, by the way, says that apart from Todd, Sellers, Faith and White, the film also stars Elizabeth Sellars as Todd's wife, along with Nigel Stock and John Le Mesurier, but this is rather misleading as Stock only has a couple of scenes with Sellers, and Le Mesurier is in the film for a grand total of 58 seconds (I've just timed it).
Whilst the prodcuers and scriptwriters probably intended a Bicycle Thieves-like effect, I am always put in mind when watching this film of a Western, with Todd stoically pursuing Meadows down the mean streets (the cafe, and Tommy's flat, are only a couple of hundred yards away from Meadows' garage), and whereas Gary Cooper or John Wayne would have a few shots of' 'red eye' before stepping out into main street to shoot it out with the bad guys, Richard Todd has a cup of tea...How very British:
I won't reveal the ending - the whole point of the 'unsung films' section of the website is to encourage people to watch the films - but the whole film can be seen via this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6L4uiGPBiag. The DVD that I have (see right) can be bought for as little as £4 from www.play.com.
I should also mention the crystal-clear photography by Christopher Challis, and the tense score by John Barry which contribute greatly to the film's overall effectiveness, and whilst its main selling point will no doubt remain Peter Sellers, overall this is Todd's film, and a very fine film it is too.