Nowhere to Go (1958) – British Noir, Medium Rare

Ealing Studios. The name conjures up images of great British comedies, does it not?  Films like The Man in the White Suit, The Ladykillers, The Lavender Hill Mob and Kind Hearts and Coronets. Film noir, however, is not the genre that comes to mind with Ealing though they rubbed shoulders with it occasionally in It Always Rains on Sunday (1947) and Pool of London (1951). Oddly enough, one of the studio’s final releases NOWHERE TO GO (1958) was pure, unadulterated noir and a stylish, terse little thriller to boot. Sadly, it has been overlooked and unappreciated for years even though it marks the feature film debut of director Seth Holt and gave actress Maggie Smith her first major screen role. With a little luck the film might win some new admirers when TCM airs it on September 9th at 6:30 pm ET.       

Although a late entry in the noir cycle, NOWHERE TO GO has a cool, light feel to it unlike American-made noirs and seems more closely influenced in tone and visual style by the French crime films of the late fifties/early sixties such as Jean-Pierre Melville’s Bob le flambeur and Le doulos. Like those films, trust and treachery are the underlying concerns here which are put into play from the start when we are immediately pulled into an ingenious prison breakout sequence, all of it taking place without dialogue, utilizing natural sounds only.      

The film then follows the escapee, Paul Gregory (George Nader), as he makes his way from the prison yard to a hideout where he ponders the circumstances that brought him to this moment in time. In flashbacks, we see how Paul, posing as an aspiring playwright, managed to charm a wealthy widow into letting him handle the sale of her late husband’s valuable coin collection. An experienced con artist, Paul double-crosses his client, selling the collection for hard cash and depositing it in a safety lock box of which he possesses the only key. Later, when he’s picked up as the logical robbery suspect, Paul pleads guilty, thinking he’ll get off in a few months but instead, the judge decides to make an example of him and delivers a sentence of ten years. Once Paul escapes from prison, his life takes an even more severe downward turn: his former partner Victor (Bernard Lee) steals his safety box key, most of his underworld connections shun him and he finds himself stranded without money or lodging. Soon he’s on the run again after Victor is murdered and he’s the suspect. Then he meets a young woman, Bridget Howard (Maggie Smith), who offers him refuge. Should he trust her? And why should she take the risk, anyway?    

Part of the immense appeal of NOWHERE TO RUN is the way it exploits, in a subtle emotional way, your identification with Paul, a charming, intelligent but clearly sociopathic personality, while encouraging your growing suspicion of Bridget, the only innocent character in the story. Also, the bitterly ironic ending puts it in a class with the fateful climaxes of such cinematic greats as The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Killing and McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

The film passed unnoticed by most film critics of its day and the few that took the trouble to review it were either brain dead from viewing too many bad movies or unappreciative of a B movie which succeeded on a much higher level. Films in Review dismissed it as a “So-so suspenser…Mr. Holt’s directorial style is so terse you’d better not let your attention wander if you want to follow the none-too-probable and ever more complicated ins-and-outs.” Variety, however, was one of the few to post a postive review proclaiming NOWHERE TO GO “a well-made, literate crime yarn with the usual polished stamp of the Ealing Studio…Nader’s performance is an intelligent study. Bernard Lee gives solid support…Maggie Smith provides an interesting new face and….suggests that she has a worthwhile future in pix.”  

 

Maggie Smith, in her first major role in a movie (she had previously appeared in a bit part in 1956 in Child in the House), is splendid as a lonely, sensitive rich girl who has trouble staying in school (she’s run away from five of them) and doesn’t seem to click with her own age group; this partly accounts for her empathy and willingness to help a shady character on the lam. Smith was cast in the film due to the influence of drama critic Kenneth Tynan who had recently seen her perform on stage in the play Share My Lettuce and was co-writer (with director Seth Holt) of the screenplay for NOWHERE TO GO. Tynan, who had been a script editor at Ealing, was much more famous, influential…and controversial as a theatre critic (at the Observer) and literary manager of London’s prestigious Royal National Theatre. Still, he tried his hand at another screenplay many years after NOWHERE TO GO when he worked on the script for Roman Polanski’s version of MacBeth in 1971. A fascinating individual, Tynan deserves a blog-a-thon of his own if only to remind people that he was much more than the infamous creator of that once daring Broadway musical revue, Oh! Calcutta! He was highly quotable in his day and you’ve probably heard some of his witticisms such as “What, when drunk, one sees in other women, one sees in Garbo sober,” or, on the subject of Roman Polanski, “The five-foot Pole you wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.”    

Tynan was good friends with Seth Holt – he once referred to him as one of the three best conversationalists in London – and NOWHERE TO GO was indeed a promising debut for them and Maggie Smith. And for a while, Holt’s career looked promising with features such as Scream of Fear (1961), a superior psychological thriller in the Hitchcock mode starring Susan Strasberg, and Station Six-Sahara (1962) – a favorite film of director Martin Scorsese – with Carroll Baker. Unfortunately, Holt never graduated to A feature projects and died unexpectedly, six weeks into the shooting of Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971), a Hammer horror film. 

But back to NOWHERE TO GO. Among the many pleasures of watching the film is the evocative black and white cinematography of Paul Beeson which gives us a crook’s tour of London complete with back streets, dive bars, shabby flats and seedy neighborhoods. A downbeat mood of desolation and overwhelming loneliness is further driven home through the film’s score which is composed and performed by jazz musician Dizzy Reece and his quintet; it remains the jazz trumpeter’s only film score to date. In addition, James Bond fans will get a kick out of seeing Bernard Lee – four years before his appearance as “M” in the series beginning with Dr. No (1962) – as the ruthless and completely loathsome villain of the piece.

While all of the above players are an integral part of NOWHERE TO GO‘s success, the real surprise here is George Nader as the debonair confidence man. It’s an impressive performance that goes from silky self-confidence to animal cunning to sheer desperation. During his Hollywood career he was rarely given the opportunity to play characters with any complexity or depth and was usually marketed as a beefcake hero in movies like Lady Godiva of Coventy (1955), The Second Sex (1955) and The Female Animal (1958). Except for the notoriously bad Robot Monster (1953) – a true guilty pleasure –  most American moviegoers are probably unfamiliar with his work, though in Europe Nader (he died in 2002) still has a cult following due to his appearance in a series of spy thrillers as secret agent Jerry Cotten. It’s interesting to note that on the poster for NOWHERE TO GO the tag line announces “Meet a new star..tough, handsome GEORGE NADER” even though Nader was hardly a “new” star but in some ways it was a new beginning for the actor and the unofficial launch of his European career.  

George Nader & Julie Adams in FOUR GIRLS IN TOWN

George Nader & Julie Adams in FOUR GIRLS IN TOWN

For many years it was rumored that Nader’s Hollywood career was sabotaged by his own studio, Universal, which felt pressure from the tabloids to expose gay actors. The story goes that the studio sacrified Nader’s career in order to protect Rock Hudson’s much more lucrative one (Nader and Hudson were close personal friends in real life; in fact, Nader and his longtime companion Mark Miller, Hudson’s personal secretary, were the main beneficiaries of Hudson’s estate when the actor died of AIDS in 1985).    

Nader relocated to Europe in the early sixties after a brief stint in U.S. television and he found steady work there until he was involved in a serious car accident that damaged his eye and made it impossible for him to work with bright lights on film sets. After that he turned to writing and one of his novels, Chrome (1978), a gay-themed science fiction novel with ideas possibly inspired by Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the basis for Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner), has earned an underground following of sorts. 

NOWHERE TO GO is not currently available on any media format and probably won’t be in the near future. Don’t miss a rare opportunity to see it when TCM airs it on September 9th at 6:30 pm ET.

SOURCES:

Maggie Smith: A Bright Particular Star by Michael Coveney

Filmfacts

www.britmovie.co.uk

Wikipedia

* Some parts of this post were modified from an original article on the film in TCMdb

0 Response Nowhere to Go (1958) – British Noir, Medium Rare
Posted By Jenni : June 22, 2009 12:06 am

Thanks for pointing this movie out. Having just rewatched Out of the Past last week, and Lady in the Lake last night, which held my 13 and 11 year olds’ attention with its narrator style and unusual filming of actors talking to the camera, I am becoming more interested in film noir. I’ll definitely plan on catching this one, and I love Maggie Smith’s work.

Posted By Jenni : June 22, 2009 12:06 am

Thanks for pointing this movie out. Having just rewatched Out of the Past last week, and Lady in the Lake last night, which held my 13 and 11 year olds’ attention with its narrator style and unusual filming of actors talking to the camera, I am becoming more interested in film noir. I’ll definitely plan on catching this one, and I love Maggie Smith’s work.

Posted By suzidoll : June 22, 2009 3:14 am

I like learning about new films noirs (film noirs?). I hope I don’t forget this one when it turns up on TCM.

Posted By suzidoll : June 22, 2009 3:14 am

I like learning about new films noirs (film noirs?). I hope I don’t forget this one when it turns up on TCM.

Posted By Andrew : June 23, 2009 9:59 am

George Nader is an actor I always think of along with John Hodiak as someone destined to play second leads, supporting the likes of Clark Gable, William Holden or Jeff Chandler. It would be interesting to see Nader opposite a wonderful actress like Maggie Smith. I hope to catch this movie in September. I’d no idea that George Nader had been so close to Rock Hudson either.

It might be a good idea for a blog about actors turned authors of fiction. Tom Tryon was another from the same period who may have been happier as a writer.

Posted By Andrew : June 23, 2009 9:59 am

George Nader is an actor I always think of along with John Hodiak as someone destined to play second leads, supporting the likes of Clark Gable, William Holden or Jeff Chandler. It would be interesting to see Nader opposite a wonderful actress like Maggie Smith. I hope to catch this movie in September. I’d no idea that George Nader had been so close to Rock Hudson either.

It might be a good idea for a blog about actors turned authors of fiction. Tom Tryon was another from the same period who may have been happier as a writer.

Posted By Brad C. : June 24, 2009 9:08 pm

You have to admire an actor who is forced to leave Hollywood because of a secret gay blacklist and then begins a new career in Europe where he becomes a cult figure for his Jerry Cotton spy films. Check ‘em out. They’re a lot of fun and wonderful time capsules of European cities in the sixties. Nowhere to Go I haven’t seen but it does seem odd to get the big “new star” buildup in one of his last English language films. And to co-star with Maggie Smith and some great British character actors. Not too shabby. Will definitely tune in for this one.

Posted By Brad C. : June 24, 2009 9:08 pm

You have to admire an actor who is forced to leave Hollywood because of a secret gay blacklist and then begins a new career in Europe where he becomes a cult figure for his Jerry Cotton spy films. Check ‘em out. They’re a lot of fun and wonderful time capsules of European cities in the sixties. Nowhere to Go I haven’t seen but it does seem odd to get the big “new star” buildup in one of his last English language films. And to co-star with Maggie Smith and some great British character actors. Not too shabby. Will definitely tune in for this one.

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