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  Crooks Anonymous Kick The Crime Habit
Year: 1962
Director: Ken Annakin
Stars: Leslie Phillips, Stanley Baxter, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Julie Christie, James Robertson Justice, Michael Medwin, Pauline Jameson, Robertson Hare, Raymond Huntley, Norman Rossington, Harry Fowler, Charles Lloyd Pack, Dennis Waterman, Dick Emery, Dandy Nichols
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Dandy Forsdyke (Leslie Phillips) is something of an opportunist, that is to say, he's a crook. In spite of promising his girlfriend Babette La Verne (Julie Christie) that he will be sticking to the straight and narrow from now on, he just cannot resist any chance to steal some bauble or bundle of notes that comes his way. Take this evening, when he walks past a jewellers' and invites himself in, pretends to size up an engagement ring but then nicks some nouveau riche lady's sparkler instead, slipping out unnoticed. Even when he reaches Babette's place of work where she is hired as an exotic dancer, he has to let himself down by helping himself to one customer's wallet, and when she finds out she is furious. But what if Dandy could get help?

As the title suggests, this posited thievery as an addiction that could be cured, as if every serial robber was a victim of kleptomania rather than a moral disappointment to society. Alcoholics Anonymous had been gaining popularity in helping with drinking problems, so the script here cheekily appropriated the professional assistance and made up their own variation on it for our amusement. Amusement was really the word, as there was nothing absolutely sidesplitting about the movie, it was simply a series of light, entertaining scenes performed by an impeccable cast of the sort you'd expect to see in a comedy effort of this vintage, though you'll note one of the cast was on her way to bigger things.

Julie Christie, for it was she, would soon have Hollywood beckoning, so it was fun to go back and watch her in these early works (this was her big screen debut) and see how she operated in a role that was mainly decorative, though grew in stature as the story progressed when it needed someone to alert the other, less scrupulous characters to the error of their ways. Still, there was some novelty in her playing the girlfriend of smooth comic character actor Phillips whose persona tended towards the humorous lothario thanks to his highly distinctive, persuasively classy tones, especially when his roles saw him more often than not a rather corrupting influence. Babette remained immune to such things, however.

As for the main premise of the plot, it featured the curious organisation Crooks Anonymous, consisting of a bunch of ex-cons who seek to deliver a stern course in reform that does not conform to any of the official channels. Led by Wilfrid Hyde-White, it is established as a hierarchy of monk-like "brothers" who see to it that after a session where the victims, sorry, volunteers are tempted to steal then when they finally resist, they are ready to re-enter the community and get a proper job. Dandy goes through with it for Babette's sake, and the set-up is a strange one reminiscent of those secret societies that you would see in episodes of The Avengers or The Prisoner later on in the decade, where a dose of paranoia might be inveigling its way into the protagonist's world - it certainly succeeds for Dandy.

Or does it? The first half was detailing his reform, and featured Scottish master of disguise, or at least imaginative costume and make-up, Stanley Baxter before he moved from film to television, becoming one of the biggest stars of his day. Here he essayed the almost Karloffian Widdowes, Hyde-White's right hand man and often hidden under his disguises all the better to orchestrate the candidate's new leaf, turning over of, a neat line in making the most of Baxter's talents. But then, everyone was very well-used here, from James Robertson Justice's Scrooge-like boss generating chuckles through his gruff meanness (the narrative was partly set at Christmas) to the smaller roles that had Norman Rossington at his most typical as a stoic night watchman or Dick Emery and Dandy Nichols as those two Northerners Forsdyke rips off at the beginning. If it took a familiar turn into heist territory, its faith in people's better nature was disarming; no classic, but appealing nonetheless. Music by Muir Matheson and George Martin (yes, the Beatles producer).
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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