NEVER LET GO. Rank, UK, 1960. Richard Todd, Peter Sellers, Elizabeth Sellars, Adam Faith and Carol White. Written by John Gullermin, Peter D Sarigny, and Alun Falconer. Directed by John Guilllermin.

   British Noir, dark as Detour and brutal as Big Heat, from the director of PJ and Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure, with veteran funnyman Sellers in a straight and very effective performance as the lead heavy.

   I detected understandable echoes of The Bicycle Thief here, along with surprising vibes from Death of a Salesman, in a story centered around Richard Todd, a cosmetics salesman who has lost his touch and quickly loses his car to a chop shop ring run by Adam Faith under the glowering eye of Peter Sellers.

   Let’s pause for a moment and look at Sellers here because his presence in the film positively sank it with the Public. A pity that, because it’s right up there with Francis Sullivan in Night and the City or Oscar Homolka in Sabotage, a figure of oversized villainy more compelling because he’s so real. Indeed, the more I watched, the clearer it became that the character’s arrogant brutality rose from a poignant desire to be loved.

   Pit this character against Todd’s anger at being treated like the Nobody he is, and you have a cosmic collision of irresistible force against irresistible force. The stolen car is vital to Todd’s work, but the police treat it as just another statistic. Spurred on to find it on his own, Todd finds himself hopelessly outmatched by motorcycle gangs and menacing goons — but he keeps on coming.

   Todd’s futile devotion to a lost cause — himself — puts Never Let Go solidly into Noir territory. He loses his job, gets beat up, causes a death, gets beat up, his wife leaves him, and he gets into one of the nastiest fights ever thrown onto the screen, leading to an ending that is at best equivocal. And all the while he’s struggling, Sellers’ character visibly deteriorates before our eyes until what we get is a conflict more dramatic because its antagonists are two sides of a very small coin indeed.

   I should add that the film is nowhere near as turgid as this review. John Guillerman’s style was marked by unpretentious (Some say he had a lot to be unpretentious about) craftsmanship and stylish bad taste, and it suits Never Let Go right down to its bloody fingernails.