Mike’s Take On Stanley Baker Films ….. Day 5
While he may be billed in third spot albeit above above the title, Stanley Baker is the motivating factor that keeps the plot moving at a fast clip in this Ralph Thomas directed caper for The Rank Organization in glorious Eastman Color.
From the outset, Baker’s the baddie when he’s caught by a night watchman stealing some car designs from an Italian factory’s office safe. In a touch of compassion, he begs the old guard not to reach for his gun and when he does just that, Baker kills him. That’s the one and only compassionate moment we’re going to see from Baker for the next 78 minutes. To cover his tracks, Baker sets fire to the factory when a platoon of police invade the building after an alarm is set off. While he gets away, many of the officers don’t, dying in the fire making Baker public enemy number one in Italy.
It turns out that the wealthy John Robertson Justice, himself a player in the auto industry and the sport of racing had sent Baker to Italy to acquire the plans for a revolutionary idea. He comes to realize Baker is a loose cannon far too late and to cover his own tracks, wants Baker off the continent. Perhaps even dead but Baker holds all the aces as he has the plans Justice wants. While the criminal angle plays an angle here in the plot scripted by Robin Estridge, there’s also a car race involved that sees headstrong Anthony Steel looking to drive the car sponsored by Justice. He isn’t the first choice for driver, that job goes to Lee Patterson who is a hell of a driver as long as he can stay sober.
Romance rears it’s ugly head for Steel when he is reunited with Odile Versois. An actress I’ll confess to never having heard of and not to be cruel but it’s no wonder. She isn’t exactly an eye catcher and I didn’t see any magic happening either when the camera put her front and center. Back to the plot. Justice needs to get Baker out of the country so what better way than to put him in a race car in this transcontinental road race. With a payoff, Justice sees to it that his main driver, Patterson is slipped a “mickey finn” and makes a deal with the young and eager Steel to take over driving duties so long as he agrees to the stranger with a quick temper being his second in the passenger seat. And so Baker gets his chance to flee the country.
It’s a “B” flick but it’s fun and Baker chews up the scenes with his on screen aggression that leaves his costars coming off as secondary characters. While the ending may be a bit on the abrupt side, I must admit to liking the “final solution” that will see justice done to Baker and ….. yes Justice. This was a new to me movie that was one of the dozen or so I had shipped in from the UK recently increasing my pile of Stanley Baker films to get at, hence the Baker festival.
Along with the fine support of James Robertson Justice is another well known face from British cinema, Maurice Denham who serves here as a senior mechanic or foreman of the pit crew. Something like that anyway. I’m not up to date with car racing and the proper terminology. I can name a few drivers, probably more than I realize but more importantly, I know Paul Newman and Marty Robbins were rabidly into the game.
Far from memorable but totally watchable as so many “B” flicks are with the attractive running time of 80 minutes to keep things moving quickly towards a satisfying fade out. For those who might like to add it to their collection this one was part of a Baker three pack. Here’s hoping the other two features will quench my thirst for more fun efforts from a man who just seemed to have a face that made for memorable on screen characterizations.
Far from memorable? Not this gorgeous original UK poster.