Saturday, 25 May 2019

Robbing hoods... Two-Way Stretch (1960)


When this blog was invented it’s stated aim was to allow me to watch and work my way through my boxes of old VHS recordings in order to decide which ones to keep, which ones to throw and which ones to replace with DVDs. The rule, so far, has been to cover films from 1960-1979 – although this rule has become more and more frustrating especially as I’d reckoned without the sudden appearance of a new supply of many, many films from this period and beyond courtesy of Talking Pictures TV… which has been transmitting and incredible volume of British film from the period of my childhood and earlier. In short, my problem has increased… only instead of boxes of videos, I now have a Virgin Box crammed full of films, A Family at War, Callan and so much more.

So it goes… but I must soldier on writing about these films – do I keep, burn or delete or, worse to I upgrade to Blu-ray?! So many of these films I hadn’t heard of and, in fairness I was either not even born or simply too young… toddlers don’t reckon crime capers much, not when there’s trains to play with.

It seems improbable that this film came before the Great Train Robbery (in 1963) but there must have been something in the air at the time; some essentially British post-war criminality that saw a big job as somehow justifiable but also funny… Was it class that drove this rebelliousness or something deeper after a decade or more of post-War austerity and a Conservative government rapidly losing its charm on a restless populous. The UK wasn’t just waiting to swing in the sixties but to elect a Labour government and to kick back, the generation that won the war wanting some credit and a good time to boot!!

Warren and Bernard
So it is that we find an entirely unrepentant group of prisoners living the life of Riley on her majesty’s pleasure; Dodger Lane (Peter Sellers, beginning to prove that he could do pretty much anything on screen), “Jelly” Knight (the redoubtable David Lodge) and Lennie (The Dip) Price (the legendary Bernard Cribbins who endures so magnificently in Doctor Who and other programmes). Dodger’s the leader with Jelly the muscle and Lennie the talent, if picking pockets is what you consider art.

The three are close to release and pretty much have the run of the prison with a naïve and overly optimistic Prison Governor Horatio Bennett (Maurice Denham) and a very easy-going Chief Prison Officer Jenkins (George Woodbridge) who only see the best in the men even as they steal the Gov’s ciggies and take liberties left right and centre.

The boys are visited by their relatives, Lennie’s Mum Mrs Price (Irene Handl) who encourages him to keep up the family honour by escaping and Dodger’s fiancé, the curvy Ethel (Liz Fraser who is, as always a wide-eyed wow!), who he uses to distract the entire room as various contraband is passed to the prisoners.

Irene and Liz
 A Vicar arrives and bless me if it isn’t Wilfrid Hyde-White as Soapy Stevens, a criminal mastermind whose last plan landed the lads inside. This time he’s got a sure-fire winner, the perfect crime to be committed while the boys are still in prison… all they have to do is escape for a few hours to do it.

Now, given the generally lax conditions this should be a doddle but Officer Jenkins is due to retire and his replacement is the ball and chain-breaking, Prison Officer 'Sour' Crout played with stiff-backed relish by Lionel Jeffries. A battle of wits ensues as Crout tries to crush the lad’s spirits and Dodger has to fix a way out past his steely-beady eyes…

Of course, the gang manage their escape and Soapy’s plan looks to have run like clockwork… can they really get away with it?

Dusty Verdict: Two Way Stretch was the fourth biggest film at the UK box office in 1962 and you can see why with this wealth of comic talent and a well-written script ably directed by Robert Day.

Jeffries and Sellars are superb as the impertinent force versus officious object – the sparks fly! There’s also a supporting cast including Arthur Mullard, Warren Mitchell, Thorley Walters and many more – such strength in depth and far from just a vehicle for the irresistible rise of the man formerly known as Bluebottle…

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