Friday, 20 March 2015

Never Let Go (1960)

It could all have been so different.

Originally, Never Let Go had cast Peter Sellers to play Cummings, the keen salesman whose life falls apart when his car is stolen, and Richard Todd signed on to play Meadows, the brutal head of car theft operation. Either role would have been diversion for both men; Todd, the veteran of the D Day landings who had portrayed several military heroes in war films such as The Dam Busters, was in no way known for his villainous roles and likewise, Peter Sellers the Goon Show and comic film star was not known for straight drama. But there was something about the Never Let Go script, some desire to break away from his established persona, that made Sellers determined to play Meadows and he set about persuading Todd to  switch roles with him. That he did succeed in this exchange makes Never Let Go, a minor British Noir, worth watching for - as the poster below proclaims - the ''new Peter Sellers - tough and ruthless!''

There's little special about Never Let Go. Alun Falconer's plot is so distinctly small fry it appears to wish to emulate and update Vittorio De Sica's The Bicycle Thieves in its suggestion that to rob a man of his means of transport is to rob him of his ability to earn his livelihood. The direction by John Guillerman is efficient enough and Christopher Challis' cinematography makes good use of the shadows and contrasts as befits the Noir/gangster genre, but there are better British Noir films out there - such as Hell is a City and Night and the City.

No, what makes Never Let Go is that tough and ruthless Sellers.

As the menacing Meadows Sellers, as he did with all his alter egos, created something well rounded and very distinctive. His hair is thick and wavy, he sports a trim moustache above a stiff, clenched grimace masquerading as a smile. His accent hails from Lancashire or Cheshire - round my necks of the woods certainly - and is nasal, almost as if he begrudges wasting breath on the people he has to threaten or taunt. He patrols his empire with a puffed up, barrel chested gait, arms simian loose at either side. Physically, his rigid manner is one of coiled barely controlled anger which, when unleashed is abrupt, startling and explosive to behold. Just as he was known to do with his comic personas, so too did Sellers take Meadows home with him, a disastrous and abusive side effect for his then wife Ann Howe. Bearing this in mind, one wonders whether it wasn't just the stated fact that Never Let Go flopped at the cinemas that saw Sellers refuse to take such obviously villainous straight dramatic roles in future.

Interestingly, the role of Cummings isn't without its edge either. Driven to desperation over the theft of his car, Todd depicts this seemingly mild mannered salesman as someone who slowly becomes unhinged as his determination to retrieve his car and bring Meadows to justice blinds him to reason and leads him to violence that matches that of his nemesis in a superbly shot final action scene. 

Without Sellers, Never Let Go would be a small noirish B movie of some minor interest for a rainy day matinee, allowing the viewer of a game of 'spot the actor' featuring as it does the likes of David Lodge (Sellers' long time friend from WWII) John Le Mesurier, Nigel Stock, a young Carol White as Sellers' teenage runaway kept woman and pop star turned actor Adam Faith as one of his crooks whose heart belongs to White - both these young stars of the 60s deliver good performances by the way but, as the decade progressed, they would hone their craft to deliver far better for future projects - and a toe tapping, suitably brassy score from future Bond composer and the songwriting partner of Faith's, John Barry. 

With Sellers, Never Let Go becomes that little bit more special and, when he's off the screen, the film becomes a whole lot duller.


  1. You are having quite a Carol White festival - its strange to go back to CARRY ON TEACHER when she and Richard O'Sullivan were so fresh and young.

    1. I am yes! It was intentional, but Dulcima reminded me how great she was and from there I went to this and then decided to compile a list of her best performances on Letterboxd, the film review site I post on. I rewatched Poor Cow last night (I love Loach and it was on the cards for a rewatch) The Fixer today and also I'll Never Forget What's'isname - review for that come!