Wednesday, 25 March 2015
I was so impressed by The Man In The Back Seat earlier this week that I immediately tracked down another B movie from Vernon Sewell which again starred Derren Nesbitt and Keith Faulkner as a couple of crooks - Strongroom, made a year later in 1962 and running at a tight 75 minutes.
One Easter Saturday, Nesbitt and Faulkner and another crook, Faulkner's brother, played by William Morgan Sheppard hold up a bank run by the stuffy and aloof manager, Colin Gordon (who, like Nesbitt, played one of the Number 2's who so oppressed and confused Patrick McGoohan's Number 6 in The Prisoner) and his secretary played by Ann Lynn. As they empty the vault, they're disturbed by the arrival of the cleaning ladies upstairs. Panicking, the three men force the manager and the girl into the strongroom, sealing them inside.
The crooks aren't callous however, and Morgan Sheppard's character heads off intending to drop the strongroom keys off somewhere and notify the police where they are to release the trapped bank employees before they run out of air.
But, as with The Man In The Back Seat, bad luck besieges the crooks and Morgan Sheppard dies in a car smash en route, Nesbitt and Faulkner being notified by the police round at the latter's flat (with the loot sitting atop the kitchen table!) This time around it is Nesbitt's character who is struck by conscience and he coerces Faulkner to park his grief and his more unrepentant manner to one side and try to collect the keys from the mortuary his brother is now lying in rest in, before they are hung for murder. More bad luck is thrown at the pair however when it is revealed the dead man's possessions cannot be handed over until the mortuary receive permission from the police and coroner.
All the while Gordon and Lynn's bank employees are trapped in the strongroom. In their claustrophobic situation, the pair slowly open up to one another in a manner which the restrictions and formalities of work had never allowed them. But, as they try increasingly desperate methods to escape, they estimate they have just twelve hours of air between them and a long bank holiday weekend ahead.
Written by prodigious TV scriptwriters Richard Harris and Max Marquis, Strongroom isn't as special as The Man in The Back Seat but it remains a tense slice of British Noir which once again casts both Nesbitt and Faulkner well as young offenders with the shadow of the noose over them. They make a fine team in both pictures and its satisfying to see the roles reversed a little here. The atmospherics of these early 60s films and the tone and look of their central performances to me mirror the real life crimes of the time and there's just something about that final freeze frame shot that reminds me of news footage for the likes of Derek Bentley and Christopher Craig.
Perhaps not a film for those with claustrophobia though!