“Tread Softly Stranger” (1958)
When gambler Johnny Mansell (George Baker) overextends his bookie debts, he flees London, returning to his working class hometown of Rawborough to visit with his steel mill accountant brother Dave (Terence Morgan), who has embezzled from the company to buy expensive baubles for his ersatz girlfriend, the oversexed bar hostess Calico (Diana Dors), who conveniently lives in an adjoining rooftop flat which will make the constant frantic exits and entrances demanded of the film’s increasingly fevered inclinations toward excited strategic arguments between the three (after Dave’s attempt to rob the mill’s payroll to disguise his earlier theft goes sour, resulting in the shooting death of the night watchman, the father of a childhood friend) that make the film, at times, seem as if it intends to be a melancholy film noir version of a door slamming bedroom farce (this may also hint at the film’s stage origins). Complicating the growing stress between the threesome over the homicide (Johnny was spotted at the scene attempting to halt the robbery, while Calico supplied Dave with the murder weapon) is a sexual tension between Johnny (who feigns resistance) and the faithless Calico that adds further grist to Dave’s rapidly deteriorating grip on reality.
Gordon Parry’s film impressively takes fairly routine material and cranks up the tension by manipulating subtle variations in editing tempo and through the use of ingeniously effective camerawork by Douglas Slocombe in which Dave’s consuming paranoiac panic is reflected in the film’s visual design. Interestingly, the movie is shot in a relatively dispassionate workmanlike style until the robbery scene, in which the mise-en-scene shifts into a dark descent into chiaroscuro fueled images symbolic of a fall into an abyss of moral damnation. (The exceptions to the earlier unaffected visual design, are anything but subtle punctuations which make no mystery in identifying Calico as an amoral succubus, who preys on the weakness of Dave’s clueless affections; she is often shot in provocatively come hither poses, with the film cutting to the steamy expulsions of the steel mill as if the entire town were in the throes of an orgasmic discharge generated by her overheated sexuality.)
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