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Criminal, The (1960)


Main image of Criminal, The (1960)
35mm, black and white, 97 mins
DirectorJoseph Losey
Production CompanyMerton Park
ProducerJack Greenwood
ScreenplayAlun Owen
CinematographyRobert Krasker
EditorReginald Mills
MusicJohn Dankworth

Cast: Stanley Baker (Johnny Bannion); Margit Saad (Suzanne); Sam Wanamaker (Mike Carter); Grégoire Aslan (Frank Saffron); Patrick Magee (Chief Warder Barrows); Jill Bennett (Maggie)

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Criminal kingpin Johnny Bannion plans a big heist to mark his release from prison. But times have changed, and Johnny's status in the criminal underworld is not what it was.

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The Criminal was unlucky enough to open in the same week as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (d. Karel Reisz), and was thus overshadowed, in Britain at least, by the celebrated British New Wave film. On the continent, however, it was a slightly different story: The Criminal consolidated French cineastes' growing interest in Joseph Losey's work for its visual panache and sharp social commentary.

Divided fairly equally between prison and the outside world, The Criminal centres on Johnny Bannion, an underworld kingpin, brought to life in a mean, moody and magnificent performance by Stanley Baker. Baker is said to have based his performance on his friend, real-life Soho criminal Albert Dimes, who Losey described as "a huge, staggeringly handsome man. He drove around in a smashing, big, white convertible with black leather upholstery". One can see reflections of this kind of tacky grandeur in Richard MacDonald's set design for Bannion's flat, with its black satin sheets and life-size nude pin-up on the bathroom door.

Bannion begins the film as a dominant figure in the criminal hierarchy, but finds his old-fashioned ways being superseded by a new breed of smooth corporate criminal, exemplified by double-crossing American sophisticate Mike Carter, who calmly informs Bannion that crime is now "a business. But your sort doesn't fit into an organisation. So we can't have you running about, messing things up, now can we, John?"

Perhaps stronger on atmosphere than narrative clarity, The Criminal has many memorable touches: the complex soundtrack of the opening sequence, combining the haunting strains of the film's theme 'Thieving Boy', sung by Cleo Laine, with an Irish prisoner's demotic version of 'knick knack paddywhack' and an improvised calypso by a Caribbean inmate; the first appearance of Maggie through the fragmented perspective of a kaleidoscope; the final shots, in which the camera soars up above the snowy field where Bannion has met his lonely demise before we return to a long shot of the prison, underlining Bannion's perpetual confinement in the criminal world. It's also arguably the first British film to be honest about the British penal system, with Losey attempting, in his own words, "to show life in prison as it really was: where the guards were bribed and where there were ruling gangs in opposition to each other... where there was a kind of violence of unbelievable brutality but mixed with humour and a certain kind of compassion."

Melanie Williams

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Video Clips
1. Kelly's back (4:02)
2. The party (3:15)
3. Fifteen years (2:01)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Baker, Sir Stanley (1928-76)
Bell, Tom (1932-2006)
Losey, Joseph (1909-1984)
Mills, Reginald (1912-1990)
Owen, Alun (1925-1994)
Anglo-Amalgamated Productions