NEVER LET GO. Rank Film Distributors Ltd., UK, 1960. Richard Todd, Peter Sellers, Elizabeth Sellars, Adam Faith, Carol White, Mervyn Johns. Co-screenwriter/director: John Guillermin. Currently available on YouTube here.

   You’d hardly believe it was Peter Sellers. Well, that’s not quite true. It’s just that one doesn’t necessarily think of Sellers when one thinks of a cinematic villain. Indeed, Sellers almost never played completely straight roles, let alone villainous ones. That, above all else, is what makes Never Let Go worth watching. For here one gets to see how much of a range Sellers had and how incredibly captivating a performance he was capable of when presented with the opportunity.

   Directed by John Guillerman, this late British noir exudes a somewhat sleazy, definitively downmarket atmosphere boosted by a jazzy John Barry score. This is not posh London, but the London of juvenile delinquents and the lower middle class struggling to get by. Among them is perfume salesman John Cummings (Richard Todd), a perpetual dreamer who thinks success is just over the horizon. When his recently purchased 1959 Ford Anglia is stolen, he sets out on a frenzied quest – think Moby Dick – to get his beloved car back.

   This puts him at odds with both the police and the leader of a vehicular theft ring by the name of Lionel Meadows (Peter Sellers). Meadows is a brute of a man. Cruel and vindictive, he isn’t above hitting women, killing animals (note: there is a particularly disturbing scene where a real fish is left flopping on the ground), and forcing a lonely, elderly man into taking his own life.

   As much as Meadows is cruel, Cummings is determined. He will get his car back, even if it costs him his marriage or his life. This obsessive desire can be best understood as reflective of the perilous economic status of England’s middle class. It’s not so much the car that he wants, as it is what the car represents; namely, the post-war dream for societal and economic advancement in a rigidly stratified society.

   Even though Cummings is the titular hero in his psychodrama, it is Meadows who is the most memorable character. Richard Todd simply can’t compete with Peter Sellers in holding the audience’s attention. It’s a downright chilling performance from a legendary actor most associated with his comedic roles.