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  Offbeat The Lure Of The Criminal
Year: 1961
Director: Cliff Owen
Stars: William Sylvester, Mai Zetterling, John Meillon, Anthony Dawson, Neil McCarthy, Harry Baird, John Phillips, Victor Brooks, Diana King, Gerard Heinz, Ronald Adam, Neil Wilson, Joseph Fürst, Nan Munro, Anthony Baird
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Layton (William Sylvester) pulls up at this bank in South London just before it opens and opens it himself, then walks inside to conceal himself behind the doors. Soon, two of the staff arrive and he produces a gun, then orders them to lie down on the floor, and when the manager shows up Layton demands he open the safe and fill a bag with bundles of notes. Then he makes good his escape, having got away with thousands of pounds – which he takes straight to Scotland Yard, since he is not an actual criminal, he is a cop going undercover who has to establish a past before he can be accepted into the underworld. The gang he has in his sights, or rather has been ordered to infiltrate by his bosses, are known for their major operations across the capital, but the law don’t have anything on them, so will Layton manage to get them?

After Rififi was the success it was across the world, it seemed every nation with a film industry to speak of wanted to get in on the heist movie act. As the nineteen-sixties dawned, many of those were developing into caper movies to add an element of fun and games, but there were a fair few which took the style seriously enough to justify themselves as proper thrillers, especially if they spent a lot of time on their criminal setpiece. Thus was the case with Offbeat, helmed by Cliff Owen who had the skills to direct a decent example as in his best known entry in the genre, A Prize of Arms, though he would head off in the direction of comedy thereafter. Here it was about as far from comedy as you could get, it wasn’t tragic or anything, just full of men squaring their jaws and setting about the task in hand with grim determination, and barely one chuckle contained within, Sylvester particularly dour.

With a cigarette jutting from his stony face, Layton, or Steve Ross as he’s otherwise known, didn’t make for a character you could warm to very easily, acknowledging this was a serious business and funnily enough the business world was what it evoked. Head of the gang Anthony Dawson was every inch the professional gentleman, overseeing his employees like the boss of a major corporation rather than the bunch of thieves they actually were; there’s a telling scene early on where Layton has been introduced to them in a fairly well-to-do apartment and the television is showing a crime drama they turn off in disgust, feeling this is pure fantasy in comparison to their experience. Indeed, the whole gangster milieu was crisply delivered, the moody black and white photography doing wonders for the atmosphere, never mind offbeat, what you were watching was more downbeat.

The title makes this sound like it’ll be one of Owen’s comedies, but seems to be a pun on the undercover policeman and his beat being off the track to become almost a criminal himself, and it rather stretched credibility to believe the law could get away with helping stage a robbery of priceless jewels to the extent that they did, wasn’t this a form of entrapment, for a start? Nevertheless, this was what we were invited to accept, and even with the short running time of a typical B-movie of the day (just over an hour) there was still time for a bit of padding courtesy of Mai Zetterling playing Sylvester’s love interest Ruth Lombard, a young widow who in the actress’s Scandinavian manner lent a note of melancholy to the tone, even existential angst, which to be fair wasn’t bad for a character who wasn’t really necessary to the overall outcome of the plot. What was interesting was that the further Layton travelled into the crime, with the heist itself a substantial set of scenes in themselves, the more he seems to be coming around to the idea of working for the other side, and the final act has you wondering if he will sell out. Uncomplicated overall, but worth musing over. Music by Ken Jones.

[Network's DVD from The British Film line has a nice print and a gallery as an extra.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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