Never Let Go Review

Taking on a serious role of in a fairly gritty film, playing a ruthless and brutal gangster is not the kind of role one associates with Peter Sellers, who at this early stage in his career was more often likely to be given roles involving comic characters. In Never Let Go however, he confounded expectations by playing a straight role in a dramatic film, and if his performance doesn’t quite hold up today, its more a consequence of typecasting in subsequent comedies – taking for example the more expected approach to such a role as crook Pearly Gates in The Wrong Arm Of The Law (1963) – and not so much through any failing of Sellers’ performance.

Sellers plays car salesman Lionel Meadows, whose activities are just a front for a major car-theft operation. However, when cosmetics salesman John Cummings (Richard Todd) has his car stolen by one of Meadows’ gang of car thieves, he initiates a one-man vendetta against a ruthless and brutal criminal who will go to extreme lengths to keep his criminal activities hidden from the eyes of the police and the public. When his brand new 1959 Ford Anglia is stolen right outside the door of his workplace at Berger’s cosmetics, Cummings – already under pressure from his boss to keep up with modern sales techniques and a younger, hungrier workforce – finds the loss of the most important tool hard to bear. With the tenacity of a true salesman he tries both hard and soft sell techniques to uncover the operation that is removing cars from the street, giving them new plates and a paint job and ensuring that their whereabouts is never traced. But his interference has consequences, not just for the criminals involved – for Tommy Towers (Adam Faith) and the gang of youths who hang out at the corner café, ready to steal cars to demand, but also for innocent bystanders like the newspaper salesman on the corner who sees and tells too much, and for Cummings’ own wife and family.

Never Let Go, in this way, takes a fairly serious look at organised crime and its consequences on society, on the perpetrators as well as the victims and succinctly captures the grip of terror and influence that such an organisation can hold over a community, the code of silence and the turning of blind eyes for fear of the consequences of getting involved. It is not hard-edged realism by any means, but it takes the subject fairly seriously pushing language, sex and violence about as far as could be expected for a British mainstream film in 1960. It’s hard to imagine Peter Sellers in such a film, but he is surprisingly effective in a very serious role, playing very much against type in a role that not only demands implied menace, but has quite a few strong scenes of charged visceral violence that earned the film an adult ‘X’ rating. He is not always entirely convincing and there are some problems with the actor’s credibility as Lionel Meadows - the role could certainly be better cast - but Sellers performs better than could reasonably be expected and is certainly not out of his depth.

However it’s Richard Todd’s performance and character as Johnny Cummings, the little man who stands up as a champion for justice that makes the film really interesting. He’s not an easy character to get to grips with – is he really an ineffective, idealistic dreamer with a lack of tenacity as his wife portrays him, or does that say more about his wife’s lack of supportiveness and her desire to remain in comfortable standstill, isolated from the harsh realities of the world? Either there is an inconsistency in this characterisation or it is the determination of a man who has finally been backed into a corner and will not go down without a fight and won’t be undermined by the fatalism of his wife, the ineffectuality of the police force, the demands to conform to a certain standard of behaviour by his boss or the activities of a bunch of criminals. Todd always makes the character interesting to follow, giving room for the viewer to try and work out what his true motivations and personality are and how far he will go to carry through his mission.

Secondary characters – particularly Adam Faith’s Tommy Towers and Carol White’s gangster’s moll Jackie, are also well characterised with some degree of depth that allows for ambiguity and sympathy at their predicament and gives the film that extra bit of edge, knowing that it is more than the fate of one man that depends on the outcome of the situation. The film however doesn’t carry the requisite force to make the conclusion - with all its ultimatums, implied violence and threats – sufficiently credible. Part of this is down to Sellers’ not being entirely convincing, but the film does slip a little over the edge into stagy melodrama. The “High Noon” showdown is certainly dramatically charged and ambitious, but a little over the top, not least with the musical backing of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”.

MGM have released a number of Peter Sellers films onto DVD and their quality is variable from the Special Editions of The Pink Panther Collection and The Party, the fine picture quality of The World Of Henry Orient to the less than pristine After The Fox and the non-anamorphic The Naked Truth. Never Let Go falls somewhere in-between, with a decent picture at the correct 1.66:1 aspect ratio, but again at that ratio not being given anamorphic enhancement by MGM.

The black and white tones of the print are quite good, with fine levels of detail and sharpness, although shadows are a little heavy. There is scarcely a mark on the print, certainly none of any real significance, but some minor edge enhancement can be spotted on one or two scenes. Overall though it looks well and I’d rate it higher if it was given anamorphic enhancement. The mono soundtrack, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 isn’t too bad either. There is a very low level of background noise, the tone is a little dull in places and it has a tendency to sound a little harsh at louder levels, but the dialogue remains clearly distinguishable. English hard of hearing subtitles are provided, in yellow font, as are Spanish and French subtitles. The only extra feature is the original Trailer (2:34), which is interesting but, focussed on the violent confrontations in the second half of the film, it is filled with spoilers.

Seeing Peter Sellers take on a serious and unsympathetic dramatic role against type and doing so with some degree of success is reason enough to make Never Let Go interesting, but the film’s gritty treatment also largely avoids simplistic characterisation, presenting a well-rounded approach to the subject from a number of primary and secondary angles, only slipping at the end into a conventional finale. MGM’s release presents the film with decent audio and visuals, and not unexpectedly with no real extras, but it’s really only let down by the lack of anamorphic enhancement.

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