Joseph Losey’s crime movies

Losey-M-posterIn 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.

The-Prowler-posterM (1951)
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.

Eve (1961)
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 …

This entry was posted in Cold War, Film Noir, James Hadley Chase, Joseph Losey, London, New York, Noir on Tuesday, Paris, Stanley Ellin, Tuesday's Overlooked Film. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Joseph Losey’s crime movies

  1. Colin says:

    I’ve seen the majority of these, with a handful of notable exceptions. Figures in a Landscape has been resting on the shelf for ages so I really need to get round to it asap.
    Losey had a real talent for crime pictures, even if he’s not necessarily thought of as a specialist in the genre.

    • This came out very much from thatconversation you initiated about Intimate Stranger when I realised for the first time just how often Losey drew on the genre, so thanks for that chum. Well, anyway, this is very much a shot across the bows or a declaration f intent as I have had various reviews planned but keep delaying them. I want to read England’s original novel of Figures (on the shelf for far too long unread) before re-watching the film (I’m thinking of getting the German DVD release to replace a knackered VHS -are all the Paramount releases the same do you think? Hopefully they are all from the longer version). First up though is Blind Date, which I’m running in 10 days – really, really enjoyed seeing that one again.

  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    Sergio – This is one of the examples of the powerful effects of the McCarthy ‘witch hunt’ on US film-making. There’s some real innovation here and skill, and it’s good to hear that it’s at least possible to find them now.

  3. Kelly says:

    Quite a repertoire there. I hope you do get around to individual posts on these. I’d love to read what you have to say about them.

  4. I saw Secret Ceremony on TV years ago, and I’m sure it was edited down since it would have been on network not cable. One of the strangest creepy movies I’ve ever seen, but I loved it. I need to chase it down now. Definitely time to revisit.

    • Thanks Marley. It’s been a while since I saw it on TV (and it would have been dubbed in Italian last time I did) but the DVD is very good indeed – shall report back fairly soon.

  5. John says:

    I think THE PROWLER is an amazing movie. Quite a few blacklisted people involved inthat one – brilliant script by Dalton Trumbo, but credited to his writing pals still working in Hollywood. I’m eager to read what you have to say about that one. MODESTY BLAISE is a big snoozefest as far as I’m concerned, convoluted story and a botched attempt at camp result in a big mess of a movie. But you’re right about the use of color and pop art decor. Vitti changes cotumes and wigs so often the movie ends up being a high speed fashion show. In fact, there’s a fight scene where she somehow manages to change her costume between kicks and fist swinging! Losey also made that *very* strange biker/radioactivity movie THESE ARE THE DAMNED with the odd cast of Oliver Reed, Macdonald Carey and Viveca Lindfors which I was fascinated by when I saw it a few years ago. Looking forward to your reviews — especially for those films listed I have yet to see.

    • Thanks very much John for all the great feedback. Damned is sadly outside of the genre but is a fascinating little Hammer excursion I quite agree and Prowler is very much a once seen, never forgotten gem of a noir and so bleak too! It is fascinating to see just how many of these films end up being about characters who feel persecuted.

  6. TracyK says:

    Very interesting list. I am really only familiar with M, and that only because of what I hear from my husband. Figures in a Landscape sounds interesting. I do hope you review some of them (or all).

  7. Joseph Losey and his films don’t ring a bell, Sergio. So this is a sort of an introduction to a filmmaker I wasn’t aware of. I hope you’ll review MODESTY BLAISE and SECRET CEREMONY, the former on account of the comic strip that I used to follow along with Ian Fleming’s James Bond and the latter, well, just for the cast. I didn’t know Mia Farrow was around at the time.

    • Thanks Prashant – Losey is best known for dra,as like The Servant and Accident, both starring Dirk Bogarde, as well as The Go-Between with Alan Bates and Julie Christie, all literary adaptations scripted by Harold Pinter. I’m going to focus on his genre outings and see if they can be reclaimed into his main body of work – we shall see …

  8. Pingback: Joseph Losey's crime movies | Tipping My Fedora - movieBlogs

  9. neer says:

    Thanks for the post Sergio. A director surely to look forward to.

  10. Pingback: Blind Date (1959) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film | Tipping My Fedora

  11. Pingback: Classic crime in the blogosphere: November 2013 | Past Offences

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