The Shakedown

One criticism sometimes leveled at British crime or noir films is that they were too genteel, seemed too preoccupied with the concerns of middle class protagonists and, consequently, lacked that edge that frequently set apart and elevated their US counterparts. However, like a lot of generalizations and blanket statements it’s not necessarily true; sure examples can be found where this is so but, by the same token, plenty of exceptions to this supposed rule also exist. The Shakedown (1960) is a surprisingly effective British noir that pulls few punches, isn’t overburdened with wholesome characters and looks ahead to the franker approach to social issues that movies in the new decade would increasingly embrace.

Augie Cortona (Terence Morgan) is an angry young man, and one who happens to be spending his last night in prison having served a sentence for running a prostitution racket. Prowling back and forth , full of pent-up energy and resentment, he impresses upon his cellmate (Bill Owen) how he intends to regain his former position of prominence in the underworld. On release, that’s exactly what he sets about doing, despite the warnings from Inspector Jarvis (Robert Beatty) that his every move will be tracked. And obstacles do lie before him, his old operations being taken over by rival hood Gollar (Harry H Corbett) and old friends in no great hurry to renew their relationship. Still, even when it looks like all doors will remain closed to him, he has a chance meeting in a pub with Jessel (Donald Pleasence), a down on his luck photographer. From this he senses an opportunity to strike out in a new direction. All he needs is the money to set himself up and the dubious rewards of a murky blackmail scheme await.

The Shakedown is essentially a classic gangster noir picture, a British variation on the type Hollywood had been turning out on and off since the 30s, a rise and fall saga of crime and criminals. It appears I spend a lot of time on here debating what might or might not constitute film noir, and what can be said to characterize it in any case. This is tricky enough when dealing with the classic American variety but gets tougher still when we move across the Atlantic. There are some instances of the traditional high contrast imagery in this movie but they don’t dominate. Overall, I’d say The Shakedown has more of a flat look, but visuals aren’t the only means of categorizing noir. The tone and mood have to be taken into consideration and are just as important. If director John Lemont merely flirts with shadowy imagery, he and fellow writer Leigh Vance indulge themselves more noticeably when it comes to the theme. The whole thing is seen from the perspective of Augie, a grasping thug with no redeeming features beyond an oily and superficial charm. This is where the real darkness of the picture lies, in the brazen and ruthless manipulation practised by the central character, in his self-serving attitude and in the (for the time) harsh language employed.

As was the case with a lot of British crime movies of the era, and there were a huge number of them, the budget was limited. I’ve noted previously how I don’t necessarily regard such matters as failings and it’s not a major issue here, although it is clear to see. Location work and exterior shots are kept to an absolute minimum and the action is largely restricted to the inside of a handful of buildings. But, as I sad, that doesn’t make the end product less effective. One of the best sequences in the film is the sting Augie arranges to relieve his rival of his ill-gotten gains and thus get himself back in business. It plays out almost exclusively in an elevator and on a landing yet the way it’s shot and edited together means it holds the attention throughout. And that basically sums up the movie – the tension is carefully maintained and the story is solid enough to keep us from paying undue heed to any other shortcomings.

Terence Morgan was a good choice in the lead. Just a few years before he had co-starred in Tread Softly Stranger, another enjoyable British noir, and he was just OK in that one. His role here suited him better as it allowed him to play up the suave nastiness without the need for any nervy introspection. Regardless of the fact we see most of the events from his point of view, no-one can realistically be expected to root for such a mean good for nothing type. Donald Pleasence garners some sympathy, as the photographer who gets duped and exploited but, for all his class and talent, he was never cast as anything other than a supporting character, and isn’t on screen enough, sadly. The person we get behind is Hazel Court as the trainee model, her part develops nicely as the story progresses and a bit more depth is added. Ms Court should of course be familiar to cult movie fans for her work first on a few classic Hammer titles and then later in Roger Corman’s AIP Gothic horrors. The support cast is packed with faces that will be familiar to anyone who’s seen much British film or television – Bill Owen, Robert Beatty (whose talents have been lauded by a few commenters here in recent days), Eddie Byrne, Harry H Corbett (a guy I usually have trouble taking seriously in straight roles), Georgina Cookson, and an especially strong bit of work by John Salew as a blackmail victim.

The Shakedown has been released on DVD by UK outfit Renown and it’s a moderate looking effort. By and large, the image is clean and acceptably sharp, but the aspect ratio can’t be right – it’s presented in Academy ratio and some kind of wide process must surely have been used by 1960. Still, it’s not horribly compromised and I’d imagine it’s as good as the film is going to get. The film is entertaining from start to finish and is one of those that retains a foot in both camps, holding onto a touch of the reserve of the previous decade while also nudging towards the more permissive style that the 60s would become associated with.

Advertisements

27 thoughts on “The Shakedown

  1. Not seen this one Colin but I’d be in there just for the cast. Shame about the AR – Renown do a great job with lesser known titles but they often have to use older masters, which is a shame. I would imagine that this might bear comparison with PAYROLL (which, conversely, has always looked incredibly good on home video).

    Like

    • Yes, Renown are a small outfit putting out a lot of very rare stuff. Their product can be hit and miss on occasion but I tend to cut such companies a bit of slack due to their relative size and, as you say, their likely reliance on the elements to hand – we’re not talking about a Hollywood or Euro major with the resources that implies.

      As for Payroll, there is grounds for comparison as a result of the underworld theme and the edginess, but it came a year or so later and I think that added to the toughness. It’s also a bit leaner since the story it’s telling is a bit more compact.

      Like

  2. Colin
    Well done bit as always my good fellow. Silly me, I have had this one on the shelf for ages and have never gotten around to watching it. I will of course fix that this weekend. Thanks for the reminder. I just saw Miss Court in an episode of the western series WILD, WILD WEST from 1966.

    One of the better “working girl” films is Don Chaffey’s 1957 UK production, THE FLESH IS WEAK. The film features John Derek as the headliner. It is an “expose” noir about the prostitution racket in the U.K. Derek is a pimp who preys on the naive, “just off the bus” young women who come to the big city for fame and fortune. Review at the usual spot.

    Gord

    Like

    • Hazel Court seemed to be in everything at some point, and was always welcome.
      The Flesh is Weak has long been on my list but it’s also another that gets passed over for some reason. I think Derek was a pretty good actor and I’ve enjoyed a number of his roles.

      Like

  3. Colin
    I just remembered that Terence Morgan played Sir Francis Drake in the 60 series of the same name. Loved that show along with Robert Shaw in The Buccaneers . These shows ran over and over again on Sat and Sunday mornings. We kids loved them. There was another series about William Tell we watched as well. Thanks for the memory jog.
    Gord

    Like

    • Morgan also had the lead in The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, not the best Mummy film, or Hammer movie for that matter, but a fairly goo-looking production and one I’m kind of fond of.

      Like

  4. Hammer films were a big hit with us kids back then. A little bit of blood and some T and A was all we needed. LOL It was great fun.

    Like

  5. I saw “THE SHAKEDOWN” only recently and quite enjoyed it. Terence Morgan is an actor that always adds value to any project he was in, whether it be as a nice fellow (“IT’S A WONDERFUL WORLD”) or a thoroughly bad lot, as here. He often was the latter.
    Then in the ’60s he turned up as Sir Francis Drake, with Jean Kent as Queen Elisabeth, for an ITC series for TV that I always enjoyed. Haven’t seen it in 50 years probably but the memory remains good about it.
    Hazel Court was a beauty that went off to Hollywood eventually and did quite well for a while.

    I just watched a 1949 film called “THE INTERRUPTED JOURNEY” that has an interesting storyline and stars Valerie Hobson, Richard Todd and the sultry Christine Norden. Well worth a view.

    Like

    • Jerry
      Ahhhhhhhhhhhh, Miss Norden does get the heart a pounding! I agree, “THE INTERRUPTED JOURNEY” is a pretty good film. I was a fan of FRANCIS DRAKE series as well.
      Gord

      Like

      • Gord,
        The deliciously slimy publisher husband of Christine Norden (in the film) is played by Alexander Gauge who, a few years ;later, morphed onto the side of the angels as Friar Tuck in “THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD”!
        Jerry

        Like

        • Jerry
          I did not realize Alexander Gauge was Tuck in ROBIN HOOD with Greene. Learn something new every day. Thanks. It has been a fair while since I saw any ROBIN HOOD.
          Gord

          Like

  6. I saw THE SHAKEDOWN years back and cannot remember much about it-for some reason I always seem to get it confused with THE INFORMERS (1963) another X certificate Brit crime film.
    Interesting comments regarding Terence Morgan which has drawn me into this. Like Colin-I rather like CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB and Morgan’s career was certainly on the slide by then. Later he turns up in THE PENTHOUSE a very sleazy thriller and the debut of Peter Collinson. THE PENTHOUSE has a very interesting performance by the somewhat imperious Martine Beswick. The film is another Paramount film on the missing list and I doubt time has been kind to it. Collinson of course is best known for THE ITALIAN JOB a film I’ve never seen and never wanted to. Collinson’s later films included some interestingly cast thrillers that delivered far less than they promised.
    Morgan I feel was most adept at playing smooth crooks-he is excellent in STREET CORNER and TURN THE KEY SOFTLY. and both films are top drawer.
    Yes Colin; more Hammer would be great and CLOUDBURST mentioned on the previous thread would be a great place to start. The film is even more intriguing if the viewer has some knowledge of writer Leo Marks (PEEPING TOM) Are Swashbucklers allowed in the High Country? if so CAPTAIN CLEGG and THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER would be great. I guess with Hammer the problem is finding stuff that has not been done to death (sorry) perhaps thrillers like Losey’s very interesting
    THE DAMNED would be a good one…..at any rate more Hammer at the High Country can only be a good thing.

    Like

    • Yes, I agree, John, “TURN THE KEY SOFTLY” & “STREET CORNER” are top drawer. Anyone know if a decent print of “CLOUDBURST” is out there?

      Like

    • John, everything is allowed here – I may have preferences or favorites but no restrictions.
      I’ve featured a handful of Hammer films but, as you say, so much has been written and published that I sometimes feel at a loss to come up with anything worthwhile – still, we’ll see.

      Like

  7. In the early Sixties I was listening to the song Mix Me A Person sung by Adam Faith. Never knew there was the movie of the same name! Best rgds.

    Like

  8. Colin, your review convinced me to take a chance on SHAKEDOWN. Sometime ago while browsing amazonUK I found a number of British crime films that look interesting. You know, that row of similar titles on the DVD page. I saved quite a number to my want list, but I hesitated to buy any because the PAL speed-up is so distracting on USA players. But I really want to see SHAKEDOWN. I did get the blu-rays of HELL DRIVERS — one of the best films ever made in England — and ROBBERY.

    Like

    • I hope you enjoy it then, Richard. There are lots of lesser known British thrillers/noir flicks out there – of varying quality naturally – as this thread and the previous (mammoth!) one show. All you can do is give some a go and see how you react to them. The PAL thing is, of course, another matter and I don’t know if there’s any easy answer for those troubled by it, though I think newer technology does something about pitch correction.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s