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  Pot Carriers, The Pre-Porridge
Year: 1962
Director: Peter Graham Scott
Stars: Ronald Fraser, Paul Massie, Carole Lesley, Dennis Price, Davy Kaye, Eddie Byrne, Campbell Singer, Alfred Burke, Patrick McAlinney, Neil McCarthy, Vanda Godsell, David Davies, David Ensor, Keith Faulkner, Norman Chappell, Alister Williamson, Windsor Davies
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Grievous Bodily Harm is what Rainbow (Paul Massie) has been charged with, and that's what he is convicted of, earning himself twelve months in prison for attacking the man he found his girlfriend Wendy (Carole Lesley) in bed with. It would have been less, but he made the stupid mistake of going after him with a knife, and the law frowns upon that sort of behaviour, to the tune of an extra few months on the sentence. Wendy is repentant, but he blames her for the situation, no matter that she tells him she will wait for him outside no matter how long it takes, and plans to visit him regularly, but once the door closes on him, he is worried he will be at the mercy of the hardened criminals inside. However, he has the good fortune to be assigned to the kitchens...

This is where he meets the real star of the show, Ronald Fraser as Red Band, reprising his television role for this began life as a play on the small screen, and an acclaimed one at that. So acclaimed was it that not only was this film made not long after its broadcast, but it also inspired one of the best-loved British sitcoms of the nineteen-seventies, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais' hit Porridge, which took the basic premise and indeed the character traits of the leads and turned up the comedy quotient. Not that there were no jokes to be heard in this, it had its moments, but it was more of a drama than actively seeking to prompt audience laughter, and there were a couple of nasty scenes here that would not have passed muster on a prime-time sitcom, even in a rough and ready decade like the one it appeared in.

Although Massie was not much in comparison with Richard Beckinsale as Godber, Fraser arguably established the character of Fletcher as portrayed by Ronnie Barker to a tee, not exactly the same but with similar roguish tendencies and cheeky sense of humour. Though if anything, Fraser had more of a sentimental streak as he has his wife (Vanda Godsell) waiting patiently outside, as she has so many times before for this career criminal, so often in fact that it has become a running joke between them. This is in contrast to Wendy, who obviously suffers huge guilt at the way her fiance has ended up thanks to her part in his downfall - Lesley would not be seen on screen after this, having been dropped by the studio; crushed, she retired from her attempts to outdo Diana Dors and ended up committing suicide ten years later, a tragic end she did not deserve.

Meanwhile, behind bars there was a gang of likely lads essaying the roles of prisoners and guards alike. Eddie Byrne was the Fulton Mackay precedent as the hardnosed guard who has no tolerance for Red Band's antics, Dennis Price was the posh forger who cooks up a storm in the kitchens (but was only in two scenes), Davy Kaye (earning an introducing credit) was the housebreaker Mouse who acted as Red Band's number two, and Alfred Burke made an impression as the inveigling Lang, who threatens violence on those who do not agree to his terms when he sells them contraband and gets a surprisingly brutal comeuppance. Mike Watts adapted his work from the teleplay a couple of years previously with a fine ear for earthy, slangy dialogue - tobacco was "snout", tea was "gutwash", and so on - and the cast were evidently relishing the opportunities he gave them, though Massie was a shade colourless as usual. If it petered out rather than built to a roaring climax, The Pot Carriers remained a lightly engrossing watch, and explained the title for the patient in one of Fraser's speeches. Music by Stanley Black (excellent theme!).

[Network release this on Blu-ray for The British Film brand with the trailer, a Dennis Price documentary and subtitles as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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