Classic British film studio Ealing has been seeing a great retrospective this season, with screenings of its classic movies and the release of some of its less renowned pieces to DVD
for the first time. The latest in this release schedule is Nowhere to Go, the 1959 excursion into Brit-Noir directed by Seth Holt (Hammer films The Nanny and Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb) and scripted by Holt and film critic Ken Tynan. For classic British cinema fans it’s an absolute treat, and something not to be missed.
The film follows the exploits of Paul Gregory (George Nader) a conman and thief as he escapes prison and goes straight back into the game. As Gregory quickly slips into a mess of thievery and betrayal, the outcome seems bleak and his only hope may lie with socialite Bridget Howard (the sensational Maggie Smith) and an audacious escape from London.
The opening break-in at a prison after dark, a mysterious figure at a decrepit train station, long shadows, and a stellar kick-off from Dizzy Reece’s Jazz score all set the film up wonderfully. The script is perfectly constructed to show a world of old-school thieves and con men who know all the tricks in the book, Nader’s strongest scenes are those where he watches a situation then deducts his way in; darting eyes, brief moments of apprehension, before it all fizzles away and his persona has reconstructed to go with the flow. Gregory’s mind is, in the first half particularly, a joy to watch at work, we see the steps leading up to something then the penny drops and the audience catch up. The silent brooding reasoning of a conman has surely never been so coolly executed. Bernard Lee (M from the old Bond movies) pops up as a conman acquaintance who is just as adept as Gregory, and Maggie Smith controls the screen as a dubious and possibly dangerous ally, the role was Smith’s feature film debut and got her nominated for the Most Promising Newcomer BAFTA.
There’s not exactly a complex plot at work here, and the film doesn’t flaunt a hive of activity, but that doesn’t mean it’s boring or simple, though there are definitely moments where attention can wander. Here beats the heart of an old-fashioned kind of thriller, something that stands the test of time and really makes you realize how dispensable most modern films, of the ilk, are. This film doesn’t need special effects or rampant gun totting because it has its eyes on a gritty sort of realism which comes from character and circumstance.
The camera work and set-up of shots directly looks at that grittiness, the predominantly dark feel of the film, the environments, and the beautifully executed shots that can be taken as intimate stand-alone frames. Pick what you like; it’s all easy on the eye. In particular the film reaches a great climax which sees Gregory hounded to Wales after the criminal fraternity turn their back on him. Here, he’s in as much danger as he was in London and here the film reaches a poignant dramatic conclusion which puts the whole film into context as the trials and tribulations of a man caught in a trap of his own misguided actions.
Nowhere to Go picks its way through 50’s London highlife via the lowlife, Nader gives a career best performance, with stellar support, and the film is beautifully shot.
Director: Seth Holt
Stars: George Nader, Maggie Smith, Bernerd Lee, Geoffrey Keen,