In the 1940s and early 1950s Joseph Losey established himself as a new director of rare intelligence and technical dexterity in Hollywood. His promise however was curtailed by the McCarthy witch hunts that destroyed the lives of hundreds of men and women of liberal sympathies. Losey, like many during the war in Europe, had supported socialists against the fascists but this would be turned against them during the Cold War. Blacklisted in the US, he eventually rebuilt a career in Europe with series of low-budget, sharply observed class critiques, often made in collaboration with writer Harold Pinter and actor Dirk Bogarde. But he also made a surprisingly large number thrillers and mysteries. Here’s a taster …
“I have been accused of overloading my films. Under the conditions which I had to work with, it is quite probable I crammed some of the films too full of the things that were important to me” – Joseph Losey in conversation with Jacques Brunius from Film (38)
Losey in the end made a baker’s dozen of movies that fit more or less snugly within the confines of the crime and mystery genre, spanning the first twenty years of his career. These include an under-regarded remake of Fritz Lang’s M starring David Wayne and one of the great film noirs from the classic period, The Prowler, with Van Heflin as a crooked beat cop whose relationship with a witness turns criminous, the psychedelia of Modesty Blaise and the symbolism of Figures in a Landscape and adaptations of novels by James Hadley Chase (Eve) and Stanley Ellin (The Big Night) – here is a quick rundown:
The Lawless (aka The Dividing Line) (1950)
A journalist comes up against racial prejudice and a local lynch mob when he comes to the defence of young Latino accused of murder and striking a policeman. One of Losey’s most obscure film, it is now easily available on a new DVD.
David Wayne takes on the role that turned Peter Lorre into a star, playing a psychotic child murderer who is ultimately tracked down not by the police but by the criminal confraternity.
The Prowler (1951)
Van Heflin is a beat cop and Evelyn Keyes in the witness to a peeping tom incident who meet one fateful night in one of the finest examples of film noir from the early 1950s.
The Big Night (1952)
Based on the debut novel Dreadful Summit by Stanley Ellin, this story of murder and revenge is a fine little thriller that I previously reviewed here.
The Sleeping Tiger (1954)
Dirk Bogarde plays the disturbed young man in his first collaboration with Losey, who was not credited due to the blacklisted (producer Victor Hanbury was the ‘front’ on the titles and advertising).
Intimate Stranger (aka Finger of Guilt) (1956)
A nice little mystery about the movie business starring Richard Basehart, this is a small but very smoothly made film deserving of an actual home video release. I reviewed it here
Time Without Pity (1957)
Michael Redgrave stars as the drunken father who comes to know his son finally when he tries to save him from the gallows.
Blind Date (1959)
Hardy Kruger is a young Dutchman framed for murder and Stanley Baker the Welsh detective told to protected vested interests in this unusual and intelligent whodunit from the novel by Leigh Howard (review of both coming to Fedora shortly).
The Criminal (1960)
Stanley Baker is the bank robber lured into one last job which lands him back in prison in this stylised drama co-written by Jimmy Sangster.
Baker co-stars opposite Jeanne Moreau in this adaptation of the eponymous novel by James Hadley Chase. Crudely re-edited by its producers, this remains an intriguing film that is well worth seeking out.
Modesty Blaise (1966)
From the spy character created by Peter O’Donnell, this swinging sixties spoof stars Monica Vitti and the sexy heroine, Bogarde is the villain and Terence Stamp lends his support. A huge fl in its day, it is a true artefact of its era and a fascinating one that makes truly bold use of colour.
Secret Ceremony (1968)
Despite a cast led by Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Mitchum and Mia Farrow, this dark and peculiar crime melodrama about an ersatz family unit, it is one of Losey’s least well-known titles and is ripe for rediscovery
Figures in a Landscape (1970)
Robert Shaw wrote the screenplay and co-stars with Malcolm McDowell in this story of two men on the run in an unnamed country in this symbolic chase film adapted from the novel by Barry England.
I hope to get round to individually reviewing some, maybe even all, of these over the coming months …