'CALCULATED RISK' (1963)
In the heady world of film criticism it is an intriguing (and vaguely
amusing) anomaly to find films that have to them nothing particular of
merit on paper yet which in practice are not only worth watching, but
worth purchasing in order to view again. Such a case is Calculated
Risk, a low budget British ‘B’ movie from 1963 directed by Norman
Harrison (no relation) and starring William Lucas, John Rutland, Dilys
Watling and Warren Mitchell (in his pre-Alf Garnett days, naturally).
Shot in the early months of 1963 (the so-called ‘Great Freeze’), the
film’s use of minimal interiors and significant location shooting is
one contributory factor to its powerful impact.
- A review by Richard Harrison (2010)
As befits a film of 69 minutes running time, the premise of Calculated
Risk is a not overly original one, but the way it is told is. Kip,
after a lengthy prison term, is released back into a society that has
changed following the death of his wife. With economic times being
hard, Kip is tempted to pull one final job…and seeks to recruit a
willing band of helpers for a heist which is tricky but do-able. With
such a plot the pacing is allowed to develop organically- the tension
increased somehow by the crisp clear nights and the soft crunch of
snow. Almost from the first shots of the film- the prison and Kip’s
release through to the churchyard covered in snow as he visits his
wife’s grave- there is a feeling of quality, somewhat surprising given
the film’s meagre budget. But, perhaps there is an inescapable romance
in the desire to be richer than one could realistically dream of- in
the way we empathise with Henry Holland in The Lavender Hill Mob
(1951) and wish him to succeed, so (I would argue) we wish the men of Calculated
Risk success also- even though their method of getting rich quick
is an illegal one.
Director Norman Harrison draws us effortlessly into the world of
thermos flasks, outdoor markets, bobbies on the beat, limited
employment, terraced houses and repressed sexual desire. Would the film
work today? Probably not. It works because of its time- the aftermath
of World War II and a Britain still struggling to get into its stride
(we had not yet reached the true maelstrom of the ‘Swinging Sixties’).
There is also no recourse to bad language (which would surely populate
an unwise re-make). Finally, the running time would (out of modern,
commercial necessity) be expanded- to the detriment of what is
currently a tight, taut thriller. The only potential area for
improvement is the ending- the momentum seems to be lost somehow, and a
slight re-edit would not have led to this. Despite this, Calculated
Risk utilises its time- its era- fabulously; the carpet of snow is
as real as the characters and the plot- and all these elements collide
in a film which is an underrated classic of early 1960s British cinema.
‘Calculated Risk' is available on DVD from Odeon Entertainment.
Odeon Entertainment website