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Never Back Losers (1961)


Main image of Never Back Losers (1961)
For Edgar Wallace series, 35mm, 61 minutes, black & white
DirectorRobert Tronson
Production CompanyMerton Park Studios
ProducerJack Greenwood
ScreenplayLukas Heller
Original novelEdgar Wallace
CinematographyBert Mason

Cast: Jack Hedley (Jim Mathews); Jacqueline Ellis (Marion Parker); Patrick Magee (Ben Black); Richard Warner (Mr Crabtree); Derek Francis (R.R. Harris)

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An insurance investigator smashes a vicious gambling ring.

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An early entry in the series of supporting features based on the works of Edgar Wallace shot at Merton Park, Never Back Losers drew upon the author's 1929 racing thriller, The Green Ribbon. The flamboyant Wallace was never one for false modesty, and on the dust jacket of the original edition he explained: "You have asked me to write my best racing thriller, and in The Green Ribbon I feel I have written what you desire. I think it is the best I have written. " Nobody made such grandiose claims about Never Back Losers, and, as the latest offering from an increasingly lengthy production line, it was nondescriptly billed on posters as 'Another Edgar Wallace Mystery Thriller!' But in retrospect it stands out as a particularly entertaining addition to the series.

It was shot with a light touch by Robert Tronson, already an experienced television director. At times reminiscent of a small screen drama, it features Jack Hedley, star of The World of Tim Fraser (BBC, 1961), giving an assured performance in a lead role as a crusading insurance investigator.

One of the primary challenges for those working on the 1960s Wallace adaptations was updating original texts that were decades old and could now feel distinctly corny. Here, a gun-toting Soho showgirl adds spice to the drama, and as The Daily Cinema noted, "a spot of humour relieves the beat-'em-up thrills". But some of this humour is unintentional: attempts to evoke the hard-boiled mean-streets of American B pictures are somewhat hamstrung by the quiet, pleasantly leafy suburban exteriors.

Patrick Magee's splendid beetle-browed, chain-smoking, chuckling master criminal - chauffeured around by his henchmen - is amusingly incongruous as he sits, presumably aiming for a low profile, in an enormous tail-finned American automobile in a well-to-do English cul-de-sac, lined by net-curtained semi-detacheds. Indeed, the vehicle drivers appears to have some trouble negotiating the street corners, and a climactic car chase through Mitcham never really enters high gear thanks to the cast's polite obedience of the Highway Code. But this all adds to the fun.

The Daily Cinema concluded that "the film is a little above the efficient standard of the successful series." This seems ungenerous: out of the ordinary, and not bogged down - as some entries in the series were - by unnecessary, over-complicated plot, Never Back Losers still feels pacy and entertaining.

Vic Pratt

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Video Clips
1. The Silver Moon Club (2:35)
2. Some friendly advice (3:20)
3. We're being followed (1:56)
Smokescreen (1964)
Magee, Patrick (1922-1982)
Wallace, Edgar (1875-1932)
B Pictures