John Cummings (Richard Todd) is a cosmetics and toiletries salesman who recently purchased a new car, a Ford Anglia, to assist him in his work. However, one evening he leaves the office and is horrified to see that his car has been stolen - he runs across the road to question the newspaper seller, Alfie (Mervyn Johns), if he's seen anything fishy going on, but he refuses to talk. Going to the police, Cummings discovers from the desk sergeant that battered cars headed for the scrap heap have their registration and plates taken by gangsters and applied to new cars that have been freshly stolen, and this is indeed what has happened to Cummings' car. He must get it back to save his job, but at what cost?
This nasty little thriller was scripted by Alun Falconer and gained a small but noticeable measure of notoriety in its day for the levels of violence and brutality it featured, not least because the main actor handing out the bruises was comic Peter Sellers. He plays Lionel Meadows, the Yorkshire-accented garage owner behind the car racket that has nicked Cummings' vehicle and he's doing very well out of it, with a nice apartment and an ex-reform school girlfriend to go with it, Jackie (Carol White). Meadows is doing markedly better with his life of crime than Cummings is during the daily grind, but he's a thug at heart, holding his henchmen in a grip of terror which will soon extend to Cummings' life as he refuses to see his car disappear for good.
Cummings' problems mount up when he reveals to his understanding wife Anne (Elizabeth Sellars) that the car had no insurance because he couldn't afford it. Todd does very well portraying a man whose oozes more and more desperation from every pore, especially as his job is now threatened when the bus makes him late for his appointments with potential buyers. He tries again to talk to Alfie, and finally gets a lead: Tommy Towers (Adam Faith), a young ne'er-do-well who steals cars for Meadows with his motorcycle gang. There is a confrontation in a café, but it ends with Cummings humiliated once more and the bikers literally running rings around him. The next day, Cummings goes over to see Alfie and finds that his hovel has been smashed up by Tommy and the gang.
This is the start of a downward spiral of violence and helplessness for Cummings, as predictably for this type of thriller the police don't have enough evidence to arrest Tommy or Meadows, for that matter, not even when Cummings witnesses Meadows going into Alfie's home. What does he do there? He drives the newspaper seller to suicide by stamping on his pet terrapin! Which we see in graphic detail, I might add, something which probably contributed to the film's certificate X rating in British cinemas. If things weren't serious before, they certainly are now and the net closes in on Meadows even as events conspire to drag Cummings further down into misery.
As the salesman's wife tells him, he isn't the sort of person who can see any project through, and she doesn't want to see him do so with the stolen car, telling him to forget it. But Cummings is determined to, yes, never let go in this case and the whole film goes way over the top in a surprisingly satisfying (and hysterical) way as the two adversaries draw closer to a potentially deadly confrontation. Sellers as a villain is well cast against type, so convincing that his fans begged him never to play one again, as he bullies everyone around him and frequently resorts to savagery. It's not The Long Good Friday, but Never Let Go provides solidly seedy entertainment, with the novelty of its star being vile providing the biggest draw nowadays. Terrapin lovers may care to pass it by. There's a dramatic and jazzy score by John Barry.