Reviewed by DAN STUMPF:         

THE MAN IN THE BACK SEAT. Independent Artists, UK, 1961. Derren Nesbitt, Keith Faulkner, Carol White. Written by Malcolm Hulke and Eric Paice. Directed by Vernon Sewell.

   I really wish I hadn’t read about this in The Encyclopedia of Horror Films because it’s a movie that deserves to be seen fresh, and the Encyclopedia makes no bones about giving away endings. So my recommendation here is that you stop reading this review right now, find a copy of Man in the Back Seat and settle down for a nice hour or so in 60s noir-land.

   Yeah, I figured you’d ignore that sage advice, so I’ll go ahead and tell you that the story revolves around a couple of young spivs (British slang for flashy small-time criminals) who let themselves in for a night-long odyssey of greed and desperation when they waylay a bookie and hit him a bit too hard.

   What follows could be played for comedy, as everything that could possibly go wrong proceeds to do so. For starters, the victim keeps his money-satchel handcuffed his wrist, and the boys have to cart his inert form around in the car—hence the title of the piece. But the writing and directing keep it tense and downbeat, due mainly to the time they take with the characters. Tony (Derren Nesbitt) is clearly the dominant member of the duo, but he’s just as obviously stupid and immature; just the sort you want in charge.

   Frank (Keith Faulkner) is basically decent but easily bossed around, and as things deteriorate you can see him mentally melting down under the pressure, and not helped at all by encounters with his wife (Carol White) who loves him for his good nature but is quickly disenchanted by his weakness as he and Tony throw one lie after another at her.

   This could easily have ended up as a rather standard late-noir crime film, but it doesn’t and I refuse to spoil it by telling you why. Just bear in mind that the writers here worked on television’s The Avengers in its mid-60s hey-day, and director Vernon Sewell specialized in creepy ghost flicks (including writing and directing three versions of House of Mystery) and expect the unexpected, as they say.