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Good Die Young, The (1954)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd.

Main image of Good Die Young, The (1954)
35mm, black and white, 98 mins
DirectorLewis Gilbert
Production CompaniesRemus Films & Romulus Films
Associate ProducerJack Clayton
ScreenplayVernon Harris;
 Lewis Gilbert
Original novelRichard Macaulay
PhotographyJack Asher
MusicGeorges Auric

Cast: Laurence Harvey (Miles 'Rave' Ravenscourt); Gloria Grahame (Denise Lake); Richard Basehart (Joe Housey); Joan Collins (Mary); John Ireland (Eddie); Rene Ray (Angela); Stanley Baker (Mike Morgan)

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Three desperate men, each in their own way in trouble with money and women, are persuaded by manipulative sponger 'Rave' Ravoncroft to risk all in a reckless heist.

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The Good Die Young is a prime example of the perils of bracketing all mainstream 1950s British films as 'staid' or 'repressed'. Director and co-screenwriter Lewis Gilbert, fresh from Cosh Boy (1953), creates a grim film noir in a London that is just as menacing as that of Night and the City (UK/US, d. Jules Dassin, 1950). The mood of impending doom is set by George Auric's plangent theme music, and in place of the standard issue trilby-hatted Detective Inspector, an uncredited narrator introduces the quartet of main characters. Any early '50s filmgoer would easily guess that a Mk. VII Jaguar cruising through nighttime Chelsea would be the prelude to a crime, but the fascination of The Good Die Young is in character rather than the actual heist.

The film details how three 'honest men' - ex GI Richard Baseheart, cuckolded USAF Sergeant John Ireland and crippled ex-boxer Stanley Baker make the very bad career decision to join forces with decadent playboy Miles 'Rave' Ravescourt and carry out a bullion robbery. Baseheart and Ireland, both cast in order to gain the film US distribution, give solid workmanlike performances, as do Gloria Grahame and Joan Collins. However, the most eye-catching performances are from the Grand Guignol of Freda Jackson as Baseheart's mother-in-law; Stanley Baker, who succeeds by playing his role completely straight; and from a young Laurence Harvey as Rave, who, in addition to boasting a great name, gave Harvey his first opportunity to create a notable screen villain. As the narrative progresses, his smile becomes yet more lizard-like, while his pompadour grows to ever more surreal heights.

Although the budgetary limitations are occasionally visible, the film's strongest moments revolve around its sense of claustrophobia, from Baker facing a future of penny-pinching despair to the confrontation between Rave and his father in a gentleman's club. Here, the narrative even attempts to suggest a parallel between Rave's war heroism and his psychopathic tendencies, although admittedly the screenplay skirts around the issue by insinuating that his war record is largely fictitious. But it is still an unequalled moment in 1950s British film, as is Robert Morley's fear and loathing of his screen son in an era of amiable screen patriarchs. The film's conclusion, with all four gang members dead, the money hidden in a graveyard and the narrator giving the bleak coda, is redolent less of Edgar Lustgarten than of the future Hammer Horrors.

Andrew Roberts

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Video Clips
1. Rave and Eve (4:30)
2. Joe and Mary (2:54)
3. Mike and Angie (2:37)
4. Four desperate men (2:20)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Auric, Georges (1899-1983)
Baker, Sir Stanley (1928-76)
Collins, Joan (1933-)
Gilbert, Lewis (1920-)
Harvey, Laurence (1927-1973)
Kemplen, Ralph (1912-2004)
Morley, Robert (1908-1992)