Peter G. Scott (director)
Network on Air (studio)
84 min (length)
26 April 2021 (released)
29 April 2021
In this big-screen remake of ITV’s popular ‘Play of the Week’, THE POT CARRIERS from 1962 is a prison drama set in Wandsworth and stars Ronald Fraser (reprising his role from the TV-play) as Red Band, the antithesis of a model prisoner who takes ‘newcomer’ Paul Massie under his wing.
Based on screenwriter Mike Watt’s own experiences in the slammer we are introduced to young Englishman James Rainbow (Paul Massie) who has been sentenced to 12 months in clink for pulling a knife on his apparent love rival who he believed was out to ‘steal’ his girlfriend. That said, blond bombshell Wendy (Carole Lesley) spells trouble wherever she goes… yep, she’s that kind of gal and Rainbow is obviously stupid enough to do time because of her infidelities. Once inside, the initially rather introverted and well-spoken Rainbow is certain his prison time will be hell on earth (it certainly would be these days!) but this was long before a time when male-on-male prison rape was common and Islamist jihadis put their skills of radicalisation inside prison walls to the test. In a way, THE POT CARRIERS really feels like a film from another century in more ways than just one.
After a bumpy start Rainbow joins the kitchen duty team and makes friends with Red Band (Ronald Fraser), an old lag due to be shortly released who runs the prison kitchen with some other inmates including Mouse (Davy Kaye), Bracket (Neil McCarthy), Dillon (Patrick McAllinney) and Lang (Alfred Burke) – an oddball who is disliked by everyone. Soon though Rainbow comes to realise that Red Band runs a little bit more than just the kitchen, in fact he’s the brain behind a cleverly staged racketeer operation that sees the lads snitching sought-after food such as bacon and steaks from various other parts of the prison’s supply chain. Enter Dennis Price as Smooth Tongue who’s in on the scheme and only too happy to ‘trade’ the stolen goods in exchange for tobacco and other treats. As the daily routine continues the prisoners are allowed the occasional visit and when Wendy turns up – dressed to kill and with promises of planning their wedding on his release date – Rainbow feels obviously re-assured that his prison sentence isn’t in vain while at the same time he concludes, “If you’re always dressed like that you won’t be alone for long!”
While Red Band and his cellmates come up with ever more elaborate schemes to ‘liberate’ gargantuan sides of bacon or huge chunks of roast they constantly need to be on the lookout for the Governor (Paul Rogers) who, along with Chief Officer Bailey (Eddie Byrne) and Prison Officer Mott (Campbell Singer) undertake routine inspections to ensure food is kept plain and simple… usually comprised of heaps of potatoes, oats, cabbage and other ‘culinary delights’. Little do they know that at the bottom of a barrel-like pot chunks of ham lie hidden until… When the whole racketeering business finally comes to light (unfortunately just days before Red Band’s release) no one wants to spill the beans though although the prison officers have a fair idea that Red Band is the ringleader they can prove nothing, not even when he’s caught red-handed with a carving knife hidden inside his apron. Aware that as a first-time offender his future won’t be jeopardized too much, Rainbow unexpectedly does the noble thing and takes the rap for Red Band, thus ensuring his mate’s release….
Ronald Fraser gives a fine performance as the wrong ‘un with a heart – his character is played with a sympathetic angle and one almost wishes he’ll get away with murder, well, perhaps not quite that but one certainly wishes he’d never get caught stealing food. Paul Massie on the other hand delivers an almost controlled and subdued performance as a guy who can’t decide whether he hates his time in prison or whether he might hate being married to Wendy even more – clearly there’s a trust issue going on. The fact that he sacrifices his own and relatively short sentence so that buddy Red Band doesn’t find his release jeopardized speaks of Rainbow’s selfless character. Unfortunately we don’t get to see enough of suave Dennis Price in this. All in all it’s an interesting look inside yesteryear’s British prison system and has some humorous moments to boot.
Newly restored and available on Blu-ray, the Special Features include theatrical trailer, Image gallery plus the documentary ‘Those British Faces: Dennis Price’.