Tuesday 30 March 2021

Dilys delivers… Calculated Risk (1963)

This is part of a Dilys Watling season on Dusty following on from the excellent Two Left Feet in which she made her mark among a string cast including Michael Crawford, Julia Foster and David Hemmings. I chiefly remember Dilys Watling from her many TV appearances in the seventies and beyond, usually providing feminine “colour” to light entertainment and comedy programmes but she’s a very fine actor, dancer and singer too – Tony nominated on Broadway no less! I once saw her walking out of the Liverpool Playhouse in the late seventies and I was as starstruck as you’d expect a teenage lad to be especially after her Benny Hill appearances.

Daughter of Ion Rhys Jones and Patricia (hicks), stepdaughter of Jack Watling and sister of actors Deborah, Nicola and Giles (now a Tory MP), Dilys is part of an acting dynasty; a family with looks and the talent to burn and, unlike say, the Foxes, with enough to set them apart for a variety of roles. Back in 1963 Dilys was just 20 and after a formal training in theatre, including the Bristol Old Vic, she’d featured in the TV series Compact before making her feature debut in this film.

Calculated Risk is low budget but very tense; the kind of film that British directors specialised in making in the transition from post-war grit to social realism. It cuts no corners and is remarkably frank for the time in terms of the motivations of its cast; a mix of recidivists and opportunists who take the calculated risk of the title.

Kip (John Rutland) leaves the Scrubs

It was made during the cold winter of 1963 and one that I just about remember pushing my peddle car through the snow in our little back garden; I couldn’t understand why it was so much harder than usual but I was only 18 months old.

The film opens as unlucky career criminal Kip (John Rutland) leaves the bleakness of the Scrubs to trudge through the grimy snow and be collected by his brother-in-law, Steve (William Lucas) who takes him to pay his respects to the deceased woman who binds them together, his Lil. Lucas enjoyed a long career from b-movie sci-fi efforts in the late fifties, through leading man roles and more sci-fi with Night of the Big Heat (1967) in the sixties, Black Beauty’s Dr James Gordon in the seventies and everything from The Bill to Last of the Summer Wine. Here he plays a likeable estate agent who becomes convinced that his Jonah of an in-law might actually be onto something with his “last big job”.

William Lucas decides on what his cup of tea is to be.

Kip has found a branch of the Westminster Bank next to a house flattened by bomb damage. The cellar remains intact and all that is required is to knock through a wall, then gain access to the bank vault through the next. There’s a regular police patrol but other than that, a well-drilled team should find little to stop them patiently working the job in peace.

Steve’s condition for taking part is that firstly he’s in charge and secondly, he won’t be actively involved in the job. Kip agrees and sets about recruiting the necessary team to do the job: there’s Nodge (Terence Cooper) who will provide the muscle, Ron (David Brierly) driver and look out and Irishman with a cause, Dodo (Shay Gorman) who arrives with a bottle of the good stuff to cement their partnership. In modern parlance Steve micro-manages the setup, going to order some gelignite from Simmie (Warren Mitchell) and casing the joint with Nodge. 

Nodge (Terence Cooper) enjoys the free show... Steve less so.

As he and Nodge wait for the local plod to complete his rounds, the latter spots a shapely figure undressing in a first-floor window. It’s Julie (Dilys Watling) who he recognises from his work and the camera makes peeping Toms of us all for a few seconds before she pulls the curtains and the boys get back to the job in hand. Steve tells Nodge to keep his mind on the job but sure enough he can’t resist asking Julie out and bringing her across the road from her house for some al fresco intimacy one night.

Meanwhile Kip reveals that he has a heart condition – he has been popping pills all film – leaving Steve to reluctantly take his place. They all hope that this will free them of Kip’s seeming curse and there follows an almost forensic break down of the job as the men dig into the cellar and proceed to hack their way through the walls once they know the coast is clear. It’s tense but matters are about to get even more serious…

Shay Gorman, William Lucas and Terence Cooper

Dusty Verdict: Calculated Risk doesn’t waste any of its relatively short running time and packs in a lot of human interest between the boys and their bank job. Dilys Watling is pretty much the only woman in the film and, yet her third billing is deserved as she not only provides a sympathetic character, she’s key not only to softening the gang’s focus but also possible redemption. She makes the most of her opportunity and lifts the whole film as a result.

Directed by Norman Harrison from the tightest of scripts by Edwin Richfield, Calculated Risk really delivers on the tension both on the job and between the band of men as the tension ramps up. Also of note is the music composed by one George Martin – just a few months after he recorded Love Me Do with four lads from Liverpool. His music here supports the narrative tension very well; here was a man who not only knew how to compose but how to collaborate whether with a group or with filmmakers and their scripts.

Dilys Watling and Terence Lucas

Calculated Risk is on DVD from Odeon Entertainment, which is a little hard to find, still it’s bound to be on Talking Pictures again if you wait; they know their onions!


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