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The Criminal [Import USA Zone 1]
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Documentaire : "Joseph Losey et les criminels"
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Johnny Bannion a passé ses trois dernières années de prison à mettre au point le plus gros vol de sa carrière. À sa sortie de prison, il met son plan à exécution. Il enterre l'argent dans un champ, mais il est arrêté avant qu'il ait pu révéler la cachette à ses complices. Ceux-ci s'empressent de le tirer de sa prison, mais ils commettent l'erreur fatale de le tuer avant qu'il ait pu leur révéler son secret... --Ce texte fait référence à une édition épuisée ou non disponible de ce titre.
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C'est à la meilleure période de l'inégal Joseph Losey, l'anglaise des années 1960, qu'appartient cet extraordinaire 'Les criminels' (le titre français a choisi le pluriel). A rebours d'autres oeuvres plus ambitieuses de sa filmographie, Losey a choisi ici de se confronter au film de genre et la réussite est totale. Les scènes de prison figurent parmi les plus sèches et brutales que le cinéma de l'époque pouvait s'autoriser et ont d'ailleurs conduit à des interdictions de diffusion dans certains pays. Et pourtant, l'avantage de la prison est la relative simplicité des relations humaines et des hiérarchies. Car, comme le découvre Bannion, l'ambiguïté, la traîtrise et la corruption règnent davantage hors les murs. Le film bénéficie d'une remarquable distribution que domine de toute sa maestria Sir Stanley Baker, immense acteur gallois, compagnon de beuverie de Richard Burton, décédé précocément d'un cancer des poumons. Losey sait admirablement varier les climats, des cellules confinées de la prison aux appartements bling bling des malfrats, en passant par de splendides scènes d'extérieur dans des campagnes anglaises enneigées. La dernière scène marque par sa parfaite harmonie avec le propos et le style du film, son absence totale de romantisme et d'espoir, sa profonde noirceur et son désenchantement.
A placer au niveau des meilleurs Melville de l'époque, Le Deuxième Souffle notamment.
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often called a 'realistic' film it's more an expressionist handling (minus the shadowy lighting of hollywood film noirs) of typical material, this makes it a bit of a shock on first viewing and might explain why it isn't as highly regarded as it ought to be. It's setting is a cold, snowy winter in london, there is no night time neon city lighting, the action outside prison takes place almost entirely during the day or indoors when darkness falls. It is also a quiet film (except of course when the violence and the screaming erupt), that added to the setting and the stark photography create a very a alien world in which the central character just doesn't belong.
Johnny Bannion (Stanley Baker) reminds me of Pacino's Tony Montana in 'Scarface' (however unlike pacino in that film Baker's stature isn't symbolic of his impotent rage given his heavy build and large frame), he's an irish hoodlum who has risen fairly high but doesn't have what it takes to get to the very top. In Tony's case he isn't ruthless enough and is guarenteed to fall as quickly as he rose due to his own weaknesses. Likewise Bannion is guarenteed to fall, he's a hard nut capable of taking anyone on but he just doesn't belong with the morons and treacherous schemers in his line of work. His appartment is decorated with modern art, it's implied he has a gift for maths and he doesn't really seem at home at a party his fellow mobsters throw for him. He's impatient with everyone, when he erupts in anger it is tinged with petulant sorrow (Baker's thuggish profile and stoic hardness belies a feral, anxious, wounded yet restrained performance), so much so that it arouses contempt in his gangster friends who comment behind his back. When he rebukes Sam Wannamaker's character repeatedly he seems a frustrated child, frustrated at both the life he leads and having to associate and rely on characters such as this. He is totally unaware that wannamaker's sly smile and constant glances betray a man itching to usurp him. And like in Scarface, where Montana can never be his boss Sosa, Bannion just isn't as ruthless as his underlings or his superiors, they're big time, he's small time. His being able to beat two men senseless in his prison cell is nothing compared to the cold hearted deviousness and ambition of his lieutenant who does not have his strength or capacity for physical violence. Both Tony and Johnny possess a dubious sense of honour that those around them do not, in both films there is no honour among thieves and they fail to grasp and adhere to that. Neither of them can accept the system around them. In Tony's case he's endlessly railing against capitalism, in Bannion's he is unable to hide his dismay and anger at the actions of the selfish, corrupt, manipulative and sadistic head warder, something i can't imagine would ever bother the other crime bosses in the film. But then the warder would never dream of moving against them because he can tell the difference between those with real power and those without, even if they are at similar levels in the hierarchy
In 'The Criminal' all this is subtlely conveyed despite and because of what would seem outlandish and anachronistic direction for a crime drama made in the second half of the 1960s.
Losey's way of impressing this man's alienation on us are brilliant, the film has a dreamy quality due to the snowy landscapes and the way he incorporates almost expressionist techniques and performances in his film without it destroying it's hard nosed feel. The insane scottish inmate played by Tom Bell has a tortured monologue where the the prison around him goes black and in close up he explains why he is different to those around him. The camera pulls back and light returns to reveal that Bannion, to whom he is supposedly talking is not listening.
When Bannion falls he falls hard, the cell block he commands turn against him having been fooled into thinking he is an informer (although this is also a part of bannion's scheme to escape and unfortunately his 'friends' scheme to kill him). The grass/snitch/tout he has beaten by a crony in the opening of the film even gets to turn the tables on him. The prison sections at the beginning and end seem to me a forerunner of Alan Clarke's 'Scum'. Patrick Magee (in a non horror role for once) is very much a hysterical yet melifuous 60s predecessor of the warders in that film.
A word must go to the music, that adds to the chilly wintry feeling, so quiet a film that when the light jazzy score by John Dankworth plays seemingly inappropriately it adds to the overall effect. The prison ballad sung by Cleo Laine over the title credits is haunting, never has a song seemed so apt at the start of a film. It is a promise of a unique experience, a promise that the film then makes good, i can't quite think of another like it. Losey's greatest achievement on screen, so different to the hollow, stylistically flat and totally stereotypical English rubbish he is perhaps best known for (although his curio for Hammer studios 'These are the Damned' is excellent too, if uneven). It goes beyond the smart little film noirs he made in Hollywood like 'the Prowler'.
'Get Carter' and 'The Long Good Friday' seem to be the benchmark of British organised crime movies these days, a major difference between them and 'the Criminal' is that it is a great film. It's different, but it rewards in bleakness, nuance and brutality.
Question is: This DVD has been available a long time, how come i'm the first to review it??