No, not the Fritz Lang movie.
This CLASH BY NIGHT is a British “B” picture from 1964. And by “B” I really mean “W”, or possibly “Y”.
I didn’t get much out of it except enjoying greatly the above shot, from right at the beginning. The guy in the foreground has just lost a heap of money on a dog race. The guy on the right is Stanley Meadows, playing a gangster here just as he did in Cammell and Roeg’s seminal PERFORMANCE six years later. And he’s equally impressive here — a cool, crisp, naturally frightening actor who was terribly underused by British cinema. Plus he looks great in motorcycle goggles (his cunning disguise).
And I loved this shot — Peter Sallis (Wallace from WALLACE AND GROMIT) in the role of halfwitted lunatic “Victor Lush”, threatens everybody with a lit match in a paraffin-soaked barn.
That’s basically the plot — a coach full of of prisoners and their guards are imprisoned in said barn while a gang boss makes his getaway. Since all the jailbirds are required to do is sit put until dawn, there’s not much suspense – -except that it’s Guy Fawkes’ Night and fireworks are flying hither and yon.
The transporter full of hardened stereotypes put me in mind of CON AIR, and made me wonder if there’s another variation to be pulled on this appealing set-up. Apart from that, the film boasts an appearance by what appears to be future cheesemeister Ray Austen (VIRGIN WITCH) as the world’s most inept sexual predator. “My husband will be home shortly,” says Jennifer Jayne, whereupon he rips her blouse and is promptly socked to death by the returning hubby. Which is all just by way of illustrating that our appallingly stiff middle-class hero is AN INNOCENT MAN UNJUSTLY CONVICTED. Which turns out to have no bearing on anything, really.
CLASH BY NIGHT has an ability to just barely hold the attention by delivering unnecessary flashbacks, improbable coincidences, pathetic cop-outs and other narrative blunders at a rapid-fire pace. If it were any better it wouldn’t really be any fun. Sadly, the only major character who DOESN’T get a flashback is the religious zealot who’s been arrested for “trying to take brotherly love a bit too far.” Even in the wake of VICTIM (1961) this film didn’t feel able to go any deeper into THAT. Given the portrayal of Sallis’ character — is he insane? Is he mentally handicapped? Do they know there’s a difference? — it’s unlikely the results would have been terribly illuminating.
Oh, and there’s some quite fun X-rated cursing, or “pervasive language” as the MPAA would say. The actors can barely conceal their glee at being allowed to say big grown-up words like “bastard”. My Dad once told me that he and his friends used to read Mickey Spillane “for the swearing”, so they’d have dug this.