Lewis Gilbert (director)
20 July 2020 (released)
20 July 2020
This British thriller, based on a novel by American screenwriter Richard Macauley, has many plus points in its favour. Macauley’s story was originally set in the US which gives this 1954 noir film an American feel, we even have three American leads. Director Lewis Gilbert has turned the literary source material into a taught affair set in post-war Britain, in this case London.
In fact, with its all too realistic themes of domineering in-laws, infidelity, injury and insolvency, this harsh environment provides the perfect playground for a heist gone wrong (don’t they usually?), though the actual crime occupies merely the final half an our of the film. What’s much more important here is how the four key players got into such a position to begin with.
THE GOOD DIE… starts with our four protagonists seated in a car driving along nightly streets as the opening credits begin to roll. Georges Auric suitably dramatic score has already told us the kind of film to expect. The car’s driver 'Rave' Ravenscourt (Laurence Harvey) has presented his three travelling companions with a box of loaded guns. They knew they were going to commit a robbery but not, or so it would seem, an armed one. We then learn their individual stories via flashback and how they came to be in this perilous situation. First up is Mike Morgan (the always vigorous Stanley Baker), an ‘over the hill’ boxer who is fighting with a broken hand in dire need of a hundred quid. Despite being advised not to fight he does precisely that… and as a result of this action (and a following accident) his hand needs to be amputated. In short, his boxing days are over! However, the poor sod has managed to save up a thousand pounds but sad to say his loving wife Angela (Rene Ray) has a younger brother called Dave (played by James Kenney) who happens to be a thieving, no-good wastrel much in the vain of Kenney’s previous character in the 1953 thriller COSH BOY. In order to help her waste-of-space brother, good-hearted Angela gives Dave her hubby’s money without thinking of the consequences.
Accomplice 2 is former G.I. Joe Halsey (the dependable Richard Baseheart), a real swell guy who unfortunately has to endure his horrid mother-in-law Mrs. Freeman (the splendid Freda Jackson). No wonder he plans on getting his pretty and pregnant young English wife Mary (Joan Collins) away from her clinging mother by taking her back to New York (he'd even offered to take the conniving old bag with them). As a result of his indecision and kind-hearted nature he too is now broke and jobless.
Accomplice 3 is US airman Eddie Blaine (John Ireland), another thoroughly decent fella who has the misfortune to be in love with his unfaithful wife Denise (American Noir queen Gloria Grahame), a would-be actress who is conducting an affair with fellow actor Tod Maslin (Lee 'the quiff' Patterson - another Yank) provocatively in front of him. Eddie is about to be stationed in Germany - of course Denise has no intention of going with him. Because he loves his femme fatale missus so much he goes AWOL, comes back and catches the pair 'at it'. Wisening-up at long last Eddie decides to make a break - but now that he has deserted his military post he’s not only disgraced but also broke.
And now to our driver (the car is stolen btw) and ringleader: enter the one and only Miles 'Rave' Ravenscourt, a serial philanderer, sponger and out and out scoundrel who does not appear to have a good bone in his body. Rave’s wealthy father Sir Francis Ravenscourt (Robert Morley) knows his offspring only too well, not only does he loath and despise him but wisely refuses to give him a penny. In fact, he suggests that he will outlive his useless son. Not so wise is Rave’s older wife Eve (played by Harvey’s older wife-to-be Margaret Leighton), an older woman and artist who can’t help but adore the louse (there are schmaltzy paintings of him all over their luxury flat) who begrudgingly pays off his ever increasing gambling debts. Nevertheless Rave needs and wants much more money. During a chance meeting in a local pub Rave gets acquainted with Mike Morgan and soon all our four protagonists meet each other in said pub. Mike, Eddie and Joe are initially quite taken with 'Rave' – especially when the barmaid (Marianne Stone) reveals: “He's got pots of money” (the impression Rave likes to give). It doesn't take Rave long to corrupt the three of them as they are all totally desperate and at their wits end. In fact, Rave manages to wipe away their final doubts via a poignant ‘speech’ (unfortunately absent in the domestic version of the film but thankfully included in the extended export version: “All the good boys got themselves killed in the war, or should have done. The good die young; that’s what we were meant to do. But we didn’t die. Oh no – we fooled them, we stayed alive. And worse than that, we came back. So now we’re in the way, we’re redundant. We’re not wanted.” No wonder this speech (which gave the film its title) wasn’t included in the domestic version, presumably because it may have triggered some sort of anarchy among disgruntled and disillusioned post-war Brits… god forbid! And now the stage is set for the final act of this tense drama, an act that cannot possibly deliver a happy ending…
Lithuanian-born Laurence Harvey (an actor brought up in South Africa who always managed to sound more English then the average well-spoken chap) turns in a convincing portrayal of a charming yet ruthless and manipulative young psychopath. Without doubt it is his film and he's well supported by Stanley Baker (his character Mike is too well spoken for a down at heel boxer though) and the rest of the gang. The suspense is kept up throughout to the last minute. This is a top noir Brit flick and no mistake!
As per usual we get generous Bonus Features from BFI with this restored release in Dual Format. Some of them are a little odd to say the least (like the 31 min silent movie ‘boxer’ drama ‘When Giants Fought’ or ‘Under the Streets’ – a 20 min affair from 1958 depicting the busy army of London Underground workers after the last tube has gone) but the highlight is an interview from 1995 with director Lewis Gilbert at the NFT, introduced by Michael Caine. Oh, there’s also an illustrated booklet.