Saturday, 8 August 2015

dancing with crime

an army veteran takes a job as a cab driver after the war and becomes so enraged with the crime and social injustice he sees on the streets that he decides to take action. sound familiar?

dancing with crime opens with the reunion of two world war two veterans who have returned to london to move on with their lives after the war. ted peters (richard attenborough) has taken a job as a taxi driver and plans to marry his dancer girlfriend, joy (sheila sim). ted's friend, dave robinson (bill rowbotham), has become involved with a criminal gang operating out of a nightclub. not long after the two reunite, dave is killed by the gang he works for and ted makes it his mission to ensure the murderer is brought to justice.

for what seems like a fairly obvious storyline, i actually found dancing with crime to be full of surprises and unexpected changes in the narrative direction. for example, the film opens with dave attempting to recruit ted into the gang and at first it seems like that's the line the film will follow; that ted facing the financial pressures of getting married in post-war britain starts to work for dave and is slowly corrupted by a life of crime. except dave is killed and then the film changes direction. now it's a revenge story with one man taking on those responsible for his friend's death. except he's not one man, he also involves his girlfriend in the proceedings and in some ways she becomes more valuable to the investigation than ted is. so now it's a detective story with a young woman taking a dancing job at a night club owned by gangsters, trying to uncover a murder whilst also keeping her true intentions a secret. the fantastic thing about this film is that it's all those stories, all within an eighty minute running time.

there are more surprises in store when ted is attacked by the gang. suddenly, this mild-mannered taxi driver is throwing kicks and punches like a ufc fighter. the choreography is a bit lacking, but the fights in the film do have a rough, choppy style that adds a bit of unexpected realism, especially when it's richard attenborough delivering most of the punches. attenborough plays ted peters as the ultimate boy scout, loyal to his friends to the last moment no matter what dave got himself caught up in. he is also surprisingly quick to put his girlfriend, joy, into the line of fire, jumping on the opportunity to have her work in the nightclub as soon as it arises.

naturally, it was joy's storyline i enjoyed the most and that i found the most complex. does she take the job in the seedy nightlclub simply to help out her boyfriend, or because she needs the money or both? her friendship with one of the other dancing girls suggests she is not completely unaware of this world and the danger she puts herself in seems far worse than any of the situations ted encounters. at least ted has the military training to protect him while joy is in real danger almost every scene she is in. i found the courage and independence of this character fascinating, given that the film was made in 1947. then again, the war was an empowering time for women so maybe it was not as surprising then as it seems now.

all the actors in the film are great but for me the standout performance is bill rowbotham as dave. rowbotham seems like the prototype for the contemporary cockney geezer and someone who would not seem out of place in an early guy ritchie film. the energy he has in his early scenes is breathtaking and the film really misses it when he's gone, although maybe that adds to the gravity of his murder.

overall, i really enjoyed dancing with crime and it's certainly an entertaining way to spend eighty minutes of your time.

dancing with crime will be released on dvd by simply media on 17th august 2015

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