The capitalist grid, couched in jailhouse fatalism from Ionesco (L’solitaire) and Warner Bros. (Each Dawn I Die). Prison life, or the prisons of life: Joseph Losey’s camera is set high to dwarf the digit-like convicts in a penitentiary yard, and low to accentuate the lattice of bars hemming them in. Stanley Baker is the volatile human mass amid the metallic hierarchies and power clashes, a two-fisted hoodlum about to be paroled. His going-away present is a baby-faced squealer (Kenneth Cope) clobbered by a burly bullethead, the prison governor (Noel Willman) bids him an ineffectual adieu ("Don’t come back here again. You’re worth better things"). London outside the walls is a windowless flat cluttered with early-‘60s alienation fetishes, a racetrack ready to be robbed, and the desolate wasteland where the loot is buried. Only uniforms separate the warden (Patrick Magee) from the gangster (Sam Wanamaker), the spurned virago (Jill Bennett) and the soothing kitten (Margit Saad) are informed by the gloom of Cleo Laine’s ballad: "All my sadness, all my joy/ Came from loving a thieving boy." Losey is an incomparable engineer of frenzy -- cramped spaces yield to brutal ejaculations, a beating muffled by chanting and clanking, a jazzy party punctuated by a jilted girlfriend’s thrashing, a flaming jail riot that turns top-dog into stool pigeon. Still, the most piercing moment is one of trembling quiet as Losey dims the lights and gives the spotlight over to Baker’s "crazy" cellmate (Brian Phelan), whose aria of breakdown is an astonishing chink in the film’s armor of loutish machismo. There’s no autonomy when all relationships are economic, people can only delude themselves of their force when life behind bars and out in the open boils down to organized crime. The wintry field at the end is another cell; snow doesn’t purify, it nullifies. Cinematography by Robert Krasker. With Grégoire Aslan, Rupert Davies, Laurence Naismith, John Van Eyssen, Nigel Green, Tom Gerard, Neil McCarthy, Kenneth J. Warren, and Murray Melvin. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce