Director Alberto Cavalcanti, who may be most familiar as the guiding spirit behind the exceptional Dead of Night (1945), will be represented again on TCM this evening, Monday, Sept. 7th.
This time, Cavalcanti and screenwriter Noel Langley adapted a Jackson Budd novel called "A Convict Has Escaped" that reflected a disturbing level of spiritual emptiness and violence in British society while telling an unpredictable crime story that we still see reflected in movies from the U.K. in later movies such as The Long Good Friday and Sexy Beast. While we usually associate the post WWII period with American film noir, this very dark story, with Hitchcockesque touches, ells the story of a RAF veteran Clem Howard (Trevor Howard), whose restless discontentment following the war leads him to pursue a life of crime, ultimately to his regret.
Drifting and drinking, Howard seems spiritually and physically spent, just as a nearly bankrupt and exhausted Britain struggled to recover from a nearly Pyrrhic victory of the war. Howard hooks up with a smuggler named Narcy (that name, significantly, is short for Narcissus, and he's played by with cold zeal by Griffith Jones, in a tour de force of violence). Operating out of funeral parlor, Narcy and his minions smuggle black market goods such as cigarettes and perfume into the country by hiding them in the coffins that are their stock in trade. However, when drugs become one of the items being peddled, Howard, draws the line, earning the ire of the gang and especially Narcy, who sets him up in an incident that conveniently lands him in prison, allowing Narcy to take Howard's girlfriend.
Howard's eventual escape from prison, and his desperate search for proof that will lead to his exoneration brings him in contact with an assortment of his fellow Brits, from a casually corrupt truck driver, a murderous housewife, and a compassionate fellow victim of Narcy, played by Sally Gray. Highly expressionistic in design and conclusion, there are several extraordinary scenes, notably a brilliantly edited scene of violence meted out by Narcy, a nightmarish visit by Gray to Howard in prison, and the ending of the film, with Narcy and Howard in a confrontation within the dank confines of the funeral parlor.
Look for Peter Bull and Sebastian Cabot in very small, uncharacteristic roles. Great cinematography by Otto Heller and highly theatrical art design by A. Mazzei. An exceptional movie, this is probably not for the squeamish.
The most important thing is to enjoy your life - to be happy - it's all that matters.
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