Michael Winner’s THE JOKERS may be his best film — you can see the whole thing on YouTube and judge for yourself. And in fact Winner’s rep might be higher than it is (in the UK he’s known mainly as a restaurant critic and as presenter of commercials for car insurance) if a few of his 60s films — I’LL NEVER FORGET WHATSISNAME and this one especially — were more regularly screened.
Edinburgh Film Festival comes to the rescue with a season of near-forgotten British classics from the post-new-wave era, boldly opening with Winner’s 1967 crime romp.
To be sure, the movie is probably one of the more visually ugly films shot in swinging London — many of Winner’s visual tricks are rather random, and both the photography and the dolly birds are slightly sub-par (milky, overexposed night scenes and bad skin, respectively), but the thing has a terrific pace and stars Oliver Reed and Michael Crawford are obviously under strict instructions to enjoy themselves hugely at all times. Surrounding them is a cut-price plethora of trusty character players, including but not limited to Edward Fox, Michael Hordern, Harry Andrews, Brian Wilde, Frank Finlay… the list goes on.
TV comedy legends Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais contribute a nifty script in which rich kids Reed and Crawford abduct the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London for a lark, and things take a surprisingly dark turn in the second half. Crawford does some of his usual schtick but manages to turn it a bit psychopathic in places, and Reed is just scary, the more so when he’s being ebullient and jolly. For a film by sitcom scribes, there aren’t many brilliant lines, but the situations are all good, and when Reed’s char-lady expresses histrionic grief at the nation’s loss, his insincere condolences cracked me up: “Yes, well, it’s not the money, is it, it’s the sentimental value.”