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  Payroll The Criminal Class
Year: 1961
Director: Sidney Hayers
Stars: Michael Craig, Françoise Prévost, Billie Whitelaw, William Lucas, Kenneth Griffith, Tom Bell, Barry Keegan, Edward Cast, Andrew Faulds, William Dexter, Glyn Houston, Joan Rice, Vanda Godsell, Stanley Meadows, Brian McDermott, Hugh Morton, Keith Faulkner
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: The new armoured car which carries this Newcastle company's payroll is among the most advanced of its type, practically impregnable and with a blaring alarm should a break-in be attempted, plus a security guard in the back with the cash to keep an eye on who might be following, police radio in his hand to contact the law the second anything seems suspicious. You'd have to be crazy to attempt to steal from it - or very determined. The gang led by Johnny Mellors (Michael Craig) is just that, and they have a man on the inside, Pearson (William Lucas) who tells them about this new van, which may be a setback but is not a deterrent...

British crime cinema is littered with heists gone wrong, mainly because for a long time the moral that crime does not pay was practically required by law in the cinema of the country. That irony, that the criminals won't get away with it, continues to be felt to this day, and not only in the United Kingdom, because there was a pleasing quality to seeing the bad guys foiled, even if they were anti-heroes. However, you could not say that of the evildoers in Payroll, one of many accomplished thrillers directed by something of an unsung master of the art, in Britain at least, Sidney Hayers, before he left for Hollywood and umpteen series television episodes.

Indeed, you could watch a selection of vintage Britflicks, not only thrillers, helmed by Hayers and not know he was the man behind the camera, but remain easy in your mind that you had been sufficiently entertained. In this case, he conjured a gritty, down and dirty atmosphere which looked ahead to the coarsening of the genre's style in the coming decades where the downbeat mood and dark humour (at best) became hallmarks of the kind of thriller designed for grown-ups. We can tell things will go horribly wrong in the first ten minutes since Johnny's masterminded plans have not reckoned with the brand new security van, which is an obvious spanner in the works.

Nevertheless, he has the power to think on his feet, and has soon worked out a way to break into the van by stranding it on a street picked out as ideal for his purposes, and all credit to Hayers the heist sequence itself is superbly crafted, packed with action and tension, not simply an oasis of accomplished excitement in a grim yarn, but one whose repercussions are felt throughout the rest of the movie. One thing you notice is that without championing the wrong 'uns, Payroll is far more biased in favour of strong women than it is the weaker men it depicts, although there are far more male characters than female. But two of the ladies, Pearson's French (for some reason) wife and the widow of one of the gang's victims, are very strident.

Mrs Pearson, Katie (not a very French name), was played by Françoise Prévost, imported from the Continent, and she is increasingly disgusted by her snivelling husband while seeing an opportunity to seduce Johnny. Meanwhile the widow is Jackie Parker who has two young kids to look after and is now seeking revenge - not justice as is pointed out by the detective investigating - making her something of a precursor to Charles Bronson's latter career in female form. Given the actress in that role was the nanny of Satan herself, Billie Whitelaw, you knew Johnny and his in-fighting cohorts don't really stand a chance, as she was an expert in playing formidable women, meaning even Jackie's rivalry with Katie is sure to result in the duplicitous wife coming a cropper since anyone who allows greed to lead them to terrible acts will not have a happy ending. With stark, black and white photography of Newcastle (though nary a local accent to be heard, a valid criticism this often receives) and Reg Owen's purposeful, jazzy score, Payroll was a cult crime gem.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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