These four men are sitting in a London taxi at night, four desperate men who have been left behind by life during peacetime after what they considered a "good war", but that was nearly ten years ago, and now they are in dire straits, so have to band together to stand against an unforgiving world and take something for themselves. But how did they meet? How did Rave (Laurence Harvey), the playboy who married into money, manage to corral these other three into agreeing to do his bidding and turn to crime? There's Joe (Richard Basehart), an ex-GI with a baby on the way, Eddie (John Ireland), a US Air Force man with a wayward wife, and Mike (Stanley Baker), a boxer who has done too much damage to himself in pursuit of settling down. Can they pull off a heist?
It was a nineteen-fifties crime movie, so of course it was a heist involved for the characters to get stuck into, but this was more akin to one of the portmanteau films that had become popular around this time, as we saw them split up for large parts of the storyline so the producers could get their money's worth out of a collection of stars, but not need to pay them for a whole production, thereby getting value for what they did spend. It was a trick used regularly way up to the seventies, when horror specialists Amicus were pulling the same behaviour, and intermittently since, but the director here was Lewis Gilbert, future James Bond overseer, presenting his credentials as a talent to be taken seriously after more tawdry excitements such as Cosh Boy earlier in his career.
Joan Collins had been in that one too, and here was Basehart's English wife who apparently has good news for him, but their relationship is hampered by her controlling mother (Freda Jackson) who comes across like a mother-in-law joke with the humour drained out. Joan was obviously going places, but the biggest female star in the cast was Gloria Grahame, a Hollywood import who had been brought over to increase the picture's chances internationally; she essayed the unfaithful wife role as if to the manor born, and added a little bad girl sparkle to what was, frankly, a dour experience. This was summed up by the hard luck of Baker's Mike: one of the star's men of violence, he may not be that old but his body is failing him after too much punishment in the boxing ring, to the extent of amputation (!).
Into all this swans Harvey, as only he could, impossibly suave yet also cold and compassionless, much like he was in real life, so you could say he was well placed here. When his wife (soon to be his actual wife Margaret Leighton in a marriage she could have well done without) decides enough is enough and he's not helping himself to her funds anymore, he makes a rash decision based on his feelings of injustice that the world he and millions of others were promised during the war is not the world they got. It was a notion that reached its cinematic apex in The League of Gentlemen six years later, but one brewing throughout a certain kind of picture, though here we have to take into account that Rave is psychopathically insane, and is as much taking the opportunity for acting out his fantasies of shooting people as he is getting the loot. For the rest, they are not unsympathetic, or not supposed to be, but they're lost causes now, so it's no surprise how keen the film is to close down every avenue to them. Relentlessly downbeat, almost cartoonishly cynical, this slice of Brit noir did end with a flourish of the heist. Music by Georges Auric.
[This is released on Blu-ray and DVD by the BFI with the following features:
Newly remastered by the BFI and presented in High Definition and Standard Definition
The Good Die Young (Export Version) (1953, 101 mins, Blu-ray only): made available here for the first time, this extended overseas-only version of the film contains anti-establishment sentiments considered too strong for British audiences of the day
When Giants Fought (1926, 31 mins): a contentious but historic bare-knuckle conflict of 1810 is vividly revisited in this power-packed silent boxing drama, with a newly commissioned musical score by Mordecai Smyth
Midnight Taxi (1946, 17 mins): a London cabby uncovers the city's secret nightlife in this surprising plug for post-war National Savings
Under Night Streets (1958, 20 mins): after the last tube has gone, an army of underground workers get busy down below
Not Like Any Other Director: Lewis Gilbert (1995, 31 mins): Michael Caine introduces the director of The Good Die Young, in this excerpt from an on-stage interview at London's National Film Theatre
***FIRST PRESSING ONLY*** Fully illustrated booklet with new writing on the film and full film credits.]