Monday 30 November 2020

We've got secrets... The Primitives (1962)

For those of a certain generation, the title of this film can only remind us of the eighties indie band, The Primitives and indeed, it would be perfect if they had taken their name from this charming if easy-paced music-group-crime-caper from 1962. It was the perfect style for a post-modern band playing on sixties style with eighties energy and they were rewarded with a top five hit with Crash as well as other lesser hits including Out of Reach, Sick of It and Secrets (my favourite). Sadly they got the name from one of Lou Reed's pre-Velvet Underground bands, still, that was before Tracy Cattell, The Coventry Blondie, joined as lead singer.

With Tracy “Tracy”'s peroxide pop-style it wouldn't be that hard to imgine the band conducting a series of daring robberies using their day-job as a cover story as they work their way across the world and that is certainly the premise of the band in this film. These Primitives also have a blonde lead, in this case called Cheta (Jan Holden), who is the mastermind as well as the exotic dancer fronting their Latin-inflected easy-going jazz music composed by the loungecore legend Edmundo Ros.

The story is patchy but the style is fun and the locations are eye-catching for those of us who dream of being lost in sixties London, from Hatton Gardens to the Strand, Fleet Street and Soho.

Jan Holden, the con is on.

Directed by Alfred Travers the film starts with the gang staging a stylish robbery, Cheta playing a rich woman upgrading her jewels and the others, Peter (Bill Edwards), Claude (George Mikell) and Philip (Derek Ware) all playing their parts.  Peter’s a cool Canadian with experience and sang froid to match Cheta as is Claude but Philip’s a loose cannon with designs on Cheta which she keeps on making clear are going nowhere.

When not stylishly stealing, the combo perform in West-end nightclubs with Cheta dancing exotically – this is unlikely to have been Ms Francis but I can’t find reference to the actual dancer although the performance is similar to the routines in Beat Girl and Espresso Bongo.

The coppers are working it out

They seem to have the perfect modus operandi until Det. Sergeant Bob Henry (Terence Fallon) and his squad start to examine the connections between the stylish crimes and the touring pattern of various performing groups. They reckon that the thieves need to be actors and performers of some kind given the elaborate nature of the crimes in which disguise and deception are key parts, tie this to the international nature of the enterprise and the suspicion is that the culprits could be using professional touring itineraries to navigate between jobs.

Bob pays a visit to the Primitives' hotel and starts to get that “hunch” – helped by Philip’s jumpiness – that all good cops of the time thrived on. The group starts to feel the heat but decide on one last job before lying low. This involves a raid on a Hatton Garden jewellers and they have targeted the flat of a sports journalist, John Turner (Rio Fanning) who they learn will be out of town covering a rugby international.

Jan Holden charms Rio Fanning

They use his flat and then climb out onto the roofs of Hatton Garden to walk over to the jewellers where the safe is emptied but, as they work their way back in the dark, John makes an unexpected return, his game having been cancelled. Cheta jumps into action pretending to be an American girl who has accidentally been given the keys to the wrong flat. As the others slip away, she charms the very tipsy journo and keeps him talking all night… at least we think it’s talking?

John’s impressed and so too is Cheta but business is business and she dyes her hair black and sinks back into the world of showbiz. Two and two are duly put together and John and Sgt Bob go cruising the nightclubs in search of a face John can recall but he fails to recognise her what with the new hair do and all.

They look to be getting away with it until Philip’s nerves get the better of him and he looks to find a drastic solution to their problem… it’s time to find out if the group really are primitives and whether or not Cheta’s seen enough of John to think about settling down. The conclusion is breathless and rounds off the drama in a satisfying way.

The Police meet The Primitives

Dusty Verdict: Yes, The Primitives could have done with more budget and the drama slips in the middle section whilst still held aloft by Jan Holden’s star turn: she’s got screen presence and is comfortably the best actor on screen. It ends up as easy-going as Edmundo’s music and a world away from the rush of his modern jazz contemporaries.

It’s fun and it did make me dig out my copy of The Primitives albums! They were a decent band and perhaps their intention was to finish what the original Primitives started with more stylish and immediate music?

The film is available on the Renown Pictures box set, 50s and 60s Films with a Beat, which is great value with eight films and available fromthe Renown website.

Edmundo Ros
The legendary John Junkin and Rio Fanning

Not Jan Holden?!

The other Primitives are still together

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