Friday, 15 March 2013

Tread Softly, Stranger


'Tread Softly, Stranger' is a decent late Brit Noir, one part heist film, one part kitchen sink drama, eight parts Diana Dors. I love Diana Dors.


Britain's favorite Bulgarian, George Baker, plays Johnny, a womaniser and gambler who thinks it propitious to pack a suitcase and leave London in a hurry before a threatened visit to a plastic surgeon very kindly scheduled by some thugs he owes three hundred quid to. Johnny is the sort of man who combs his hair every time he is left alone for ten seconds, but he's also a coward and a sentimentalist:

'Somehow, when you're in trouble, and need to lie low for a while, the town you were born in seems the safest place'.

Uncle Bulgaria.

He heads North to his place of origin, Rawborough, a Dickensian 'heap of cinders and clinkers', a depressingly functional place of smoke and smog and industrial waste, where trains cross the road and the foundry looms above everything like a monstrous, dirty castle.


Welcome to Rawborough.

It's bracing.


Rawborough by night, the Paris of the North.
Johnny is looking for his younger brother, Dave, but instead finds Dave's 'girlfriend' (in his mind, not so much in hers) Calico, played by Diana Dors, not perhaps at her sexiest, but certainly at her fittest. Appropriately, he first encounters her as she's doing her calisthenics, dressed in short shorts and high heels, swivelling to a bossa nova beat while the foundry pumps out pollution in the distance. Johnny can't quite believe his luck.




It's a great introduction, especially when she turns and sees she's being watched - she pouts, her heavy lidded eyes look him up and down in an instant, she arches an eyebrow and makes her assessment - he's hers for the taking. 



Later that night, as the restless Johnny looks out of the window, Calico stands out on her balcony in her flimsies, straps down, sex face on - it's so blatantly provocative that she might as well be pressing her pudenda against the glass. Johnny wanders out on to the roof like a man in a trance, only for her to turn around and shut the door, breaking the spell.

Oh. My. God.

I know how you feel Johnny...

When Johnny's younger and more uptight brother Dave reveals that he has stolen money from the foundry to keep Calico in fancy dinners and jewel encrusted watches. Johnny reacts angrily (and jealously) to begin with -

'The money went on Calico. Her in the moonlight, big eyes and lazy drawling voice. She's got you by the short hairs. One hand on your knee, and the other in your pocket'

- but the boys soon hatch a plan to rob the factory on the night before pay day in order to cover both their debts. Naturally, it goes wrong, and a night watchman is killed. The brothers may be gamblers (Johnny on horses; Dave on Calico), but they have bloody awful luck, and it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better (even the stolen notes are marked, and end up being burned).


Never give a nervous man a gun.

Tainted cash.

It's the nature of films like this that one person quickly falls apart and starts shouting 'I didn't kill him' at the most basic of enquiries and, of course, it's bespectacled, nervy Dave, his mental stability not in any way aided by the fact that Johnny and Calico are now conducting a steamy affair in the room next to his. It can only end in confrontation, arrest and, probably, the rope for at least one of them. But not for Calico, of course, she's the cause, and tends not to stick around to see the effect.

You could cut the sexual tension with an airline spoon.

But let's not be too hard on the girl. What else did you want her to do? As she says herself:

'I come from a slum. From the gutter where it's quite a step up even to the pavement. I never had a home. I never had a father my mother could put a name to. I never had a thing. 'til, one day, I found I was attractive to the opposite sex. I discovered that my legs weren't made just to stand on. I had one talent. Some people haven't got any. So I used that talent. And I got tough'.

You certainly did, Calico, you certainly did. Tough and gorgeous.  


SOME NOTES ON DIANA DORS:



I think Diana Dors is wonderful. She rarely starred in anything worthwhile, had a damaging tendency to fall in love with scumbags and, as she got older and heavier, found herself cast as either vulgar fishwifes or pathetic, past it sex maniacs, but very little of that was her fault. 

The former Miss Fluck crammed an awful lot into her fifty two years, and she looked tired for a long time before she died. But she always had something, an inner flame that didn't need youth and a conical bra to draw people to her. She could act, she was witty and intelligent and, best of all, she knew that almost everything was a joke, including her.

I have written a poem in tribute:

O, Diana
Goddess of Love that you are -
or is that Venus?
I'll look it up
But either applies, really

Ascending on the half-shell
The sea sizzles as you smoulder
From Swindon to the silver screen
& endless 'Celebrity Squares'
When you get older

I also thought you were good
 in 'The Two Ronnies'.

It's very much a work in progress.

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