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The Good Die Young

The Good Die Young(1954)

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teaser The Good Die Young (1954)

Viewers who think British cinema's "angry young man" trend began withLook Back in Anger in 1958 are far too trusting of textbooks. LewisGilbert's moody film noir, The Good Die Young, reveals that post-WWII male angst was alive and kicking on England's screens at least as earlyas 1954. The story of four buddies who come to tragic ends via a badlybotched post office robbery, Gilbert's picture is loaded with desperatecharacters whose hopes and dreams have become distant memories. As LaurenceHarvey, who plays the well-heeled monster of the bunch, states at one point:"All the good boys were killed in the war, or should have been. The gooddie young. The rest survived and came back, and nobody wants us. The lawprevents our opportunity." You can't get much angrier than that.

Each character has a reason to fall into crime, not that they're any good atthe mechanics of it. Richard Basehart is Joe, an American who wants to takehis cut of the money and escape to the States with his stunning British wife(21 year-old Joan Collins). Mike (Stanley Baker) is a hulking boxer who hadto quit the ring after breaking his hand, then had his entire life's savingsstolen by his shifty brother-in-law. An American soldier named Eddie (John Ireland) is on the run from the military after discovering that his floozy wife (GloriaGrahame) has been sleeping with another man. And 'Rave' (Harvey)is a would-be class-act - and the theoretical 'brains' behind the operation- whose wife (Margaret Leighton) has a gambling problem. He's alsostark-raving bonkers.

Evocative lighting, of course, is a staple of any good film noir, andcinematographer Jack Asher deserves special credit for his work on TheGood Die Young. He appears well-versed in German Expressionism, butnever lets stylized shadows overwhelm the gritty reality of the storyline.He and Gilbert are in fine form during the sharply constructed robberysequence, which includes a street shootout and a close-call with a speedingsubway train.

It's a wonder, though, that they could generate any intensity at all.British censors did a number on the screenplay's American source novel,which is why the gang is attempting to rob a post office, rather than themore obvious source of cash- a bank. Gilbert was also forced to tack onsome clunky voice-over preaching at the end of the film because, at onepoint, a Bobbie gets shot. Apparently, it's more acceptable to audienceswhen armed American cops take a bullet.

Though the cast is uniformly terrific, Gilbert had his hands full withGrahame, who had a reputation as something of a character. Producer JamesWolfe had been impressed with Grahame's performance in The Bad and theBeautiful (1952) and was convinced that she was perfect for the comic reliefrole of Denise, so Gilbert had little choice in the matter. But he did cometo enjoy Grahame's histrionics, and always looked back fondly on their timetogether. For instance, while in makeup before her first day of shooting,Grahame actually asked the director whether England had any psychiatrists,then pulled out a large box of brightly-colored pills that she was afraidshe might not be able to get overseas.

Gilbert felt the display of pharmaceuticals was simply Grahame's way ofsaying that she was incredibly nervous, so he spent a lot of time from thereon out telling her how beautiful and talented she was. It must have worked,as her performance is one of the highlights of the film. Grahame, however,may not have been completely convinced of her looks- during shooting, shemanaged to charge a pile of dental work to the production, which didn'tendear her to the money men. Years later, Gilbert said of her: "It wasn'tthat she was a great star or a great actress; I don't think she could haveplayed the great roles in the theater. Her epitaph is that she isremembered in films because she had an extraordinary style as an actress,more so than many great stars. Most actresses dissolve away in the distantpast, but somehow or other one always remembers her."

Director: Lewis Gilbert
Producer: James Wolfe
Associate Producer: Jack Clayton
Screenplay: Lewis Gilbert
Cinematography: Jack Asher
Editing: Ralph Kemplen
Music: Georges Auric
Art Director: Bernard Robinson
Costume Design: Rahvis
Sound: Red Law and Bert Ross
Cast: Laurence Harvey (Miles "Rave" Ravenscourt), Gloria Grahame(Denise), Richard Basehart (Joe), Joan Collins (Mary), John Ireland (Eddie),Rene Ray (Angela), Stanley Baker (Mike), Margaret Leighton (EveRavenscourt), Robert Morley (Sir Francis Ravenscourt), Freda Jackson (Mrs.Freeman), Lee Patterson (Todd Maslin), Walter Hudd (Dr. Reed).

by Paul Tatara

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