Offbeat (aka The Devil Inside in the U.S.) (1961)
Directed by Cliff Owen
Produced by E.M. Smedley-Aston
Written by Peter Barnes
Cinematography by Geoffrey Faithful
Edited by Antony Gibbs
Music by Ken Jones
Distributed by British Lion Film Corporation
(1:11) New to me - Network (UK) DVD
Although I still have a few Brit noir titles left, I plan to keep writing about them after Noirvember is over. Although they’ve varied in quality and style, I have enjoyed them all. Today’s entry may be the best of them all so far.
“Let’s be realistic. This is the age of betrayal.”
A man single handedly robs a bank just before business hours, making it look as if he’s done this all his life. He hasn’t. He’s actually an MI5 agent named Layton (William Sylvester, below left), who’s attempting to infiltrate a London gang that’s been hard to nail down. Using the name of Steve Ross, a deceased thief, Layton has to earn the trust of the gang, especially its hard-nosed leader James Dawson (Anthony Dawson, below right).
As Steve tries to prove himself, he learns that the organization is surprisingly well-run. (They even have a pension plan.) Eventually Dawson is satisfied and Steve becomes part of a carefully constructed plan to rob a jewelry store holding three-quarters of a million pounds in diamonds. Although not in the same league as Rififi (1955), the heist work in Offbeat is impressive.
Steve develops a friendly relationship with his new co-workers and even more so with another member of the gang, the beautiful Ruth Lombard (Mai Zetterling). He begins to like Ruth a lot. He also likes his friends. And it’s entirely possible he likes this new line of work.
Offbeat (the directorial debut for Cliff Owen) questions our traditional notions of crime and punishment, offering up a gray area that bears scrutiny we aren’t sure we’re ready for.
The suspense sustained during the heist itself is nothing compared to intricacies of the characters, particularly Layton/Steve. I’ve mentioned this before with other Brit noir titles, but Offbeat is far better than it has to be. (I imagine this “B” picture was probably better than the “A” pictures it supported.) The cast is excellent and first-time director Owen clearly knows what he wants and what works. Highly recommended.
Next time: The film that, according to Eddie Muller, is as close as Hollywood got to David Lynch in the 1940s.
Photos: DVD Beaver, British 60s Cinema, Classic Movie Ramblings