Never Let Go (1960)
Directed by John Guillermin
Produced by Peter de Sarigny
Written by Alun Falconer
Based on a story by John Guillermin and Peter de Sarigny
Cinematography by Christopher Challis
Edited by Ralph Sheldon
Music by John Barry
Rank Films (UK), Continental Distributing (US)
(1:31) MGM DVD
One of my great regrets in missing Noir City 18 this year was not being able to see a film I’d heard about for a few years, Never Let Go, starring Peter Sellers in a non-comedic role. I thought I’d catch up with the film at one of the Noir City festivals in Chicago or Washington DC, but when I saw the DVD at a used bookstore recently, I snagged it faster than a booster can jack a car, which is precisely how Never Let Go opens.
Stealing cars may be the essential element behind Never Let Go, but the film is principally a parallel character study between two men who may be more alike than they think.
John Cummings (Richard Todd) is a London cosmetics salesman who’s outwardly confident, despite his sagging sales figures and chronic tardiness to important meetings. His new car, a Ford Anglia, has placed Cummings on top of the world, not only because it gives him a sense of status, but primarily because his job as a salesman demands reliable transportation. But when Cummings discovers his car has been stolen, his world turns upside down in a desperate attempt to recover it. Why not just let the insurance company take care of it? Because, caught in the enormous gap between wealth and poverty, Cummings put all the money he had into the car, with none left to insure it.
We know what’s happened to the Anglia: A young thug named Tommy Towers (Adam Faith, right) stole the car, taking it to his boss Lionel Meadows (Peter Sellers, left), who runs a legitimate auto body shop, but deals in stolen cars on the side. Cummings believes that someone had to have seen the crime, maybe Alfie (Mervyn Johns), the man who runs the nearby newsstand. Seeking help from the police, Cummings learns that 80% of all stolen cars are recovered. But what if he’s in the 20% that aren’t?
Cummings soon begins to suspect that Meadows has had the car stolen and is keeping it in his garage until he can modify and sell it. He’s right, but Cummings can’t prove anything. In a sense, Never Let Go begins as a sort of British version of Bicycle Thieves (1948), but it soon becomes a tale of obsession, following two characters: one seeking to regain something, another seeking to hold onto something.
As Cummings begins to obsess over the car, his wife Anne (Elizabeth Sellars) grows concerned for him, knowing that his obsession is a symptom of something deeper. She tells him that his fixation has occurred before, that it’s just “another dream. This one’s going to turn into a nightmare,” she tells him. “Let it go.”
Anne realizes that Cummings isn’t strong or tough enough to keep this crusade going, and that he doesn’t need to prove he is to earn her respect and love. Yet he’s consumed with anger, constantly speculating as to what course he should take next. (After his scene with Anne, there’s a clever cut to a stray dog prowling the streets, going on his own mission.)
Yet Meadows also wants to be something he’s not: respectable. While he employs several skilled men to work on his cars and a gang of lackeys to steal them, his only real tools consist of fear and violence.
These work well enough on his thugs, but Meadows can’t understand why his girl Jackie (Carol White) isn’t more appreciative. After all, he’s given her everything she wants, except the freedom to escape him. Meadows is a lecherous as The Asphalt Jungle’s Alonzo Emmerich (Louis Calhern), only Emmerich understands and mourns the consequences of his actions; Meadows doesn’t. Peter Sellers plays Meadows as a sadistic, charmless tyrant, a man who longs for respect, but only knows one way to get it. (The film also provides an equally interesting comparison between Anne and Jackie.)
Both Cummings and Meadows want to be something they’re not and are threatened by elements and situations beyond their control. Ironically they both are part of endeavors - sales and the criminal lifestyle - that demand their players keep moving constantly and stay organized, otherwise you’re looking at disaster. We know that Cummings and Meadows are eventually going to face each other, and in the film’s final moments, the two men go at it in a showdown that would be right at home as the conclusion of a Hollywood Western.
Never Let Go is a terrific noir thriller with an excellent score by John Barry and excellent performances. Let’s hope this one continues to show up on the Noir City circuit, but even if it doesn’t, seek this one out on DVD.
Photos: Nostalgia Central, Noirsville, Criminal Element, British 60s Cinema