Friday, May 1, 2020
The Man in the Back Seat (1961)
Tony (Derren Nesbitt) and Frank (Keith Faulkner) are a couple of likely lads who’ve come up with a foolproof plan for robbing a bookie as he leaves the greyhound track. All they have to do is knock him on the head as he’s getting out of his car, grab his bag containing his takings and make their getaway in his car. Nothing could be simpler. Only one problem - to prevent just this sort of robbery the bookie has handcuffed himself to his bag. So the lads have to take the unconscious bookie with them.
And the bookie is not looking too good. Maybe Tony hit him a bit too hard. He’s alive but he’s in a bad way.
This movie is like a comedy of errors, except that it’s black comedy. It actually reminds me a little of Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry, except in this case it’s a live body rather than a dead one causing the trouble. It’s not just the difficulty of getting to the money in the bag. What do they do with the guy then? He obviously needs to be taken to a hospital or at least to a doctor but they can’t do that. They come up with a series of schemes to try to get some help for the stricken bookie, or to find a way to get him to a hospital without being seen, but something always goes wrong.
Derren Nesbitt is one of my favourite English actors of this period and this is just the sort of rôle at which he excels. Tony is over-confident and cocky but he’s not as smart as he thinks he is and he’s not as cool-headed as he thinks he is. His quick thinking, deciding that they’d take the bookie with them, has landed them in a nightmare.
They keep ending up back in the car with the bookie in the back seat. That’s where a large part of the action takes place, giving a nice sense of claustrophobia and desperation. It’s as if they’re condemned to drive around London forever with an unconscious possibly (for all they know) dying man as a back-seat passenger. It all happens at night, in true film noir style.
Network’s anamorphic transfer is excellent as always.
The Man in the Back Seat is a very pleasant little surprise, an offbeat and very effective little noir thriller. Very highly recommended.