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  Man in the Back Seat, The I am the passenger/And I ride and I ride
Year: 1961
Director: Vernon Sewell
Stars: Derren Nesbitt, Keith Faulkner, Carol White, Harry Locke, Anthony Bate
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  0 Votes
Review: This tightly-constructed, well-paced thriller is a highly-polished little gem. Running less than an hour, and featuring only three main characters, it tells an excellent story that really grips the viewer from start to finish. It could equally be a very black comedy on the lines of Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry, given that most of the plot revolves around trying – and failing – to get rid of an inconvenient body.

Two ambitious but inept young thugs, Tony (Derren Nesbitt) and Frank (Keith Faulkner) plan to rob a greyhound track bookmaker, Joe Carter (Harry Locke), of his day's takings. All they have to do is wait for him to leave the stadium, whack him over the head, grab his bag and drive off. Unfortunately, Carter takes the precaution of handcuffing the bag to his wrist. So they have to take the unconscious Carter along until they can open the bag, and Carter has left the key to the bag at the stadium.

This is only the beginning of an increasingly nightmarish journey, driving around London by night, trying to get the money out of the bag and, more important, dump Carter's body. Tony fancies himself the brains of the team (Frank is easily-led and less cold-blooded) but he is also viciously violent. The beating he gives Carter means the man is dying throughout the film, and in 1961 this meant capital punishment at the end of a rope.

The pair are thwarted at every turn: a tyre blows, they run out of petrol, inconvenient policemen appear round corners, when they try to park they are moved on. Frank's wife Jean (Carol White) is less than helpful, exasperated by the way her husband always falls in with Tony's plans, and completely distrustful of Tony himself (quite rightly, as he is also an accomplished pathological liar).

I don't want to reveal more of the plot because this is a film that should be seen fresh for the first time. Vernon Sewell's direction of this minor film is masterly in the way it builds suspense right up to literally the last minute. The increasing sense of claustrophobia, sharing the car with a dying man, and helplessness, as each way forward becomes a dead-end, is also reminiscent of Hitchcock's toying with viewers' emotions as they identify with the characters' predicament.

The performances of the three leads are excellent. Derren Nesbitt is outstanding as Tony, constantly plotting but thwarted by his inability to plan more than one move ahead. He is a dangerous man simply because he thinks he is much cleverer than he really is. His superficial charm is clearly just that – superficial. Keith Faulkner as Frank is equally good (for some reason he disappears from record a couple of years later), suggesting the character's good-natured weakness, while Carol White captures Jean's frustration with her man (who has a good job and has no reason to resort to crime) with energy and passion. (Harry Locke, as Carter, only has a few lines but is an inescapable presence throughout the film when he is unconscious, a plum role for an actor.)

If you can find this on DVD, or cable TV, try and see it. It is an object lesson in how to do a lot with minimal resources, developing fully rounded characters and keeping audiences audiences hooked from the first scene until the words “The End” appear on the screen.
Reviewer: Enoch Sneed

 

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