Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: Stanley Baker, Sam Wanamaker, Grégoire Aslan, Margit Saad, Jill Bennett
Director: Joseph Losey
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Widescreen Presentation enhanced for 16x9 TVs. Crime classic with Stanley Baker.
hammerscholar | Liverpool, Merseyside United Kingdom | 09/22/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film has seemingly been forgotten, it's not usually mentioned in the pantheon of 'great' british gangster films or even the best work of it's director.often called a 'realistic' film it's more an expressionist handling (minus the shadowy lighting of hollywood film noirs) of typical material, this makes it a bit of a shock on first viewing and might explain why it isn't as highly regarded as it ought to be. It's setting is a cold, snowy winter in london, there is no night time neon city lighting, the action outside prison takes place almost entirely during the day or indoors when darkness falls. It is also a quiet film (except of course when the violence and the screaming erupt), that added to the setting and the stark photography create a very a alien world in which the central character just doesn't belong.Johnny Bannion (Stanley Baker) reminds me of Pacino's Tony Montana in 'Scarface' (however unlike pacino in that film Baker's stature isn't symbolic of his impotent rage given his heavy build and large frame), he's an irish hoodlum who has risen fairly high but doesn't have what it takes to get to the very top. In Tony's case he isn't ruthless enough and is guarenteed to fall as quickly as he rose due to his own weaknesses. Likewise Bannion is guarenteed to fall, he's a hard nut capable of taking anyone on but he just doesn't belong with the morons and treacherous schemers in his line of work. His appartment is decorated with modern art, it's implied he has a gift for maths and he doesn't really seem at home at a party his fellow mobsters throw for him. He's impatient with everyone, when he erupts in anger it is tinged with petulant sorrow (Baker's thuggish profile and stoic hardness belies a feral, anxious, wounded yet restrained performance), so much so that it arouses contempt in his gangster friends who comment behind his back. When he rebukes Sam Wannamaker's character repeatedly he seems a frustrated child, frustrated at both the life he leads and having to associate and rely on characters such as this. He is totally unaware that wannamaker's sly smile and constant glances betray a man itching to usurp him. And like in Scarface, where Montana can never be his boss Sosa, Bannion just isn't as ruthless as his underlings or his superiors, they're big time, he's small time. His being able to beat two men senseless in his prison cell is nothing compared to the cold hearted deviousness and ambition of his lieutenant who does not have his strength or capacity for physical violence. Both Tony and Johnny possess a dubious sense of honour that those around them do not, in both films there is no honour among thieves and they fail to grasp and adhere to that. Neither of them can accept the system around them. In Tony's case he's endlessly railing against capitalism, in Bannion's he is unable to hide his dismay and anger at the actions of the selfish, corrupt, manipulative and sadistic head warder, something i can't imagine would ever bother the other crime bosses in the film. But then the warder would never dream of moving against them because he can tell the difference between those with real power and those without, even if they are at similar levels in the hierarchyIn 'The Criminal' all this is subtlely conveyed despite and because of what would seem outlandish and anachronistic direction for a crime drama made in the second half of the 1960s.
Losey's way of impressing this man's alienation on us are brilliant, the film has a dreamy quality due to the snowy landscapes and the way he incorporates almost expressionist techniques and performances in his film without it destroying it's hard nosed feel. The insane scottish inmate played by Tom Bell has a tortured monologue where the the prison around him goes black and in close up he explains why he is different to those around him. The camera pulls back and light returns to reveal that Bannion, to whom he is supposedly talking is not listening.When Bannion falls he falls hard, the cell block he commands turn against him having been fooled into thinking he is an informer (although this is also a part of bannion's scheme to escape and unfortunately his 'friends' scheme to kill him). The grass/snitch/tout he has beaten by a crony in the opening of the film even gets to turn the tables on him. The prison sections at the beginning and end seem to me a forerunner of Alan Clarke's 'Scum'. Patrick Magee (in a non horror role for once) is very much a hysterical yet melifuous 60s predecessor of the warders in that film.A word must go to the music, that adds to the chilly wintry feeling, so quiet a film that when the light jazzy score by John Dankworth plays seemingly inappropriately it adds to the overall effect. The prison ballad sung by Cleo Laine over the title credits is haunting, never has a song seemed so apt at the start of a film. It is a promise of a unique experience, a promise that the film then makes good, i can't quite think of another like it. Losey's greatest achievement on screen, so different to the hollow, stylistically flat and totally stereotypical English rubbish he is perhaps best known for (although his curio for Hammer studios 'These are the Damned' is excellent too, if uneven). It goes beyond the smart little film noirs he made in Hollywood like 'the Prowler'.'Get Carter' and 'The Long Good Friday' seem to be the benchmark of British organised crime movies these days, a major difference between them and 'the Criminal' is that it is a great film. It's different, but it rewards in bleakness, nuance and brutality.Question is: This DVD has been available a long time, how come i'm the first to review it??"
Trevor Willsmer | London, England | 11/13/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Criminal (aka The Concrete Jungle) is, for my money at least, one of Joseph Losey's two best films (the other being King and Country), but it never really garnered the kind of success or reputation it deserved, possibly because it had the misfortune to open on the same day as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which completely overshadowed it. Billed as `the most violent film ever made in Britain,' even 45 years on it's still vicious stuff. Indeed, in the entire cast of characters that populate Alun Owen's excellent and unsentimental screenplay - irredeemable crooks, vicious prison warders, prison governors who don't really want to know, amoral molls and assorted perverts and thugs - the only two people in the entire film who aren't totally corrupt are Laurence Naismith's arresting officer (who is still not above letting on about his informants) and the piano tuner who appears in one brief scene. The plot is a simple enough variation on Touchez Pas au Grisbi, with Stanley Baker's con pulling off a big job and immediately being ratted out by one of his partners who wants a bigger share, but the stark execution and background is what carries it. Certainly its vision of the British prison system as a Hellish melting pot of refuse of all persuasions - Irish, Australian, Italians, West Indians, the mentally disturbed - where the guards don't only turn a blind eye to vicious beatings but even facilitate them is a kick in the groin to the more sedate cop movies of the day.
It's also full of memorable little moments, from the prison weasel spreading the news of an informant's return inbetween lines of Knick Knack Paddywhack to Kenneth J. Warren's inability to say anything without incorporating the word `loike.' Robert Krasker's black and white cinematography has more bite to it than most of its contemporaries, from the hard stark edges of the prison scenes to the bleak half-snowscape of the haunting final shots, while Johnny Dankworth's score makes great use of Cleo Laine's mournful prison balled ("All my loving, all my joy/Came from loving a thieving boy"]). The supporting cast is impressive, offering a virtual who's who of perfectly cast 60s British character actors, including many faces that would later memorably turn up among the ranks in Baker's Zulu). Unlike the wave of British gangster flicks to litter the straight-to-video shelves post-Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, this feels like the real thing rather than a bunch of nicely brought up middle class kids playing dress-up. For some curious reason Anchor Bay's otherwise excellent transfer omits the end credits, played over a melancholy shot of prisoners walking in circles in a stark and wintery exercise yard.