Max Brant (Zachary Scott) is out of prison in France where he was meant to be executed, but managed to give the authorities the slip when his associates ambushed the police car he was in and murdered his guards. A career criminal, and something of a mastermind at that, he has a new plan for forging banknotes across the Channel in Britain and knows precisely how to go about it. Flying into the country in a light aircraft undetected, he lands near the mansion house of an old ally, the forger Louie Bernard (Mervyn Johns), who now wants nothing to do with Brant, but he won’t have a say in the matter: nothing stops Max Brant.
The Counterfeit Plan sounds like an episode of a police procedural television series, so it could really have benefited from a more dynamic title, for this was a modest thriller that laid the groundwork for the tough heist movies to arrive in the nineteen-sixties such as A Prize of Arms, Payroll or Robbery. Modest in budget, that was, barely one step up from a B-movie, but as far as its effect went you may be surprised to see how tough and uncompromising it was, within the trappings of your average fifties crime drama. There were typical elements, such as the imported stars from North America, or its crime does not pay message, but it was plain to witness just how much they were getting off on Brant's evil.
Zachary Scott's American accent was never explained here, we just had to accept that a big bad gangster of Brant’s influence would hail from that nation, but he was well-established in movies and television as a smooth villain often in leading roles, sort of a man you loved to hate. In real life, he was quite the opposite, a tireless campaigner for charity and proponent of Civil Rights and much respected, though he was at heart a troubled man thanks to a messy divorce and a near-fatal accident that affected him deeply. On screen however, he was often the picture of confidence, and audiences were always appreciative of his performances; when you watch him here, you can well understand his roguish appeal.
This was a film that gave short shrift to romance, so the love angle was handled by Peggie Castle as Carole, Bernard's daughter who inexplicably also has an American accent, and if you’ve ever seen Glynis Johns you won’t be convinced she was Mervyn Johns' daughter either. She was a B-movie actress and small screen stalwart who like Scott also met an untimely end, though hers was thanks to alcoholism, and thanks to her good looks and tragic history has picked up a small cult following among aficionados of the small scale efforts she frequented, often she was the highlight, particularly adept at bad girls. In this she was assuredly on the level, and the film took great delight in throwing Carole's decency back in her face for the full running time.
Her boyfriend (Robert Arden) is beaten up trying to protect her from Brant, he almost rapes her but is only prevented by the stern housekeeper (Chili Bouchier), and ends up a prisoner in her own home as the counterfeit operation is conducted from Bernard's country house. So far did the production relish Brant’s wickedness that it quickly became, from the first scene in fact, one of the most ruthless thrillers of its decade, pointing to how the British film industry would gravitate towards gangsters in its subject for better or worse. In this case it's better, conjuring a seedy atmosphere where deals are done between ne’erdowells in back rooms and at specially staged boxing matches or snooker games, as all the while Brant thinks nothing of utilising violence, even murder to get his way. Scott could play the criminal mastermind in his sleep by this time, indeed it was what had brought him fame, but he had something to get his teeth into here, and that was a bonus right up to the unforgiving (if absurd) conclusion. Listen out for a snatch of the Plan 9 from Outer Space library music.
[Network's British Film DVD has a restored print and alternative titles, trailers and a gallery as extras.]