THE SMALL WORLD OF SAMMY LEE

PrintE-mail Written by J. R. Southall

Or “The Brass... and How to Get It”, maybe. A couple of years after Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and the year before Richard Lester changed the landscape with A Hard Day’s Night, Ken Hughes adapted his 1958 TV play Sammy for the big screen, keeping his leading man Anthony Newley and adding just enough sauce and sass to earn himself an X certificate. With Newley now all-but forgotten, despite a stellar career in the 1960s which included a marriage to Joan Collins and penning the lyrics for the Goldfinger theme and the 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, as well as the timeless standard Feeling Good, this is a welcome and crisply remastered BFI release of the 1963 noirish Brit New Wave proto-Goodfellas.

Bradford teen Patsy (Foster) arrives at the Peepshow strip revue in seedy Soho to start a new life after a one night stand with the club’s compère Sammy Lee, only to find him in a spot of bother. Following an ill-advised all night gambling session, Lee (Newley) is in debt to the tune of £300 (over £4k in today’s money) to local gangster Connor, with five hours to pay off the debt or face the consequences. Not too proud to ask his brother (Warren Mitchell, later to become Alf Garnett) for help, but too proud to take any from the various women in his life, Lee eventually has to try and raise to £300 himself through a string of hastily contrived under the counter business transactions.

Newley is excellent, a sharp-suited spiv spin on Leonard Rossiter’s later creations and with similar mannerisms and bodily posture, while Foster is winningly keen as the bushy-tailed ingénue abroad in the big city, discovering the district she’s landed in isn’t all bright lights and ultimately coming unstuck. There’s a wide cast of familiar faces in small roles, from Wilfrid Brambell as Lee’s lackey, to Derek Nimmo as an effete and ineffectual second in command to Roy Kinnear’s casino owner. Lynda Baron, Cyril Shaps and Miriam Karlin also turn up in small but notable roles, and Robert Stephens is supremely oily as the proprietor at the Peepshow.

From the moment the title sequence takes a tour of the early morning emptiness of London’s most notorious neighbourhood, it’s clear that Hughes’ film is going to be a lot more thoughtful than many of its crime drama brethren. Indeed The Small World of Sammy Lee’s roots as a television play are clear to see in its depth of focus on the characters and their situations, with a number of themes paying off in a variety of generally bittersweet ways as the film progresses. An absolute must-buy for fans of British cinema history.

REVIEW: THE SMALL WORLD OF SAMMY LEE / CERT: 12 (TBC) / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: KEN HUGHES / STARRING: ANTHONY NEWLEY, JULIA FOSTER, ROBERT STEPHENS, WILFRID BRAMBELL, WARREN MITCHELL / RELEASE DATE: 14TH NOVEMBER


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