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Often overlooked in discussions of film noir cinema, Nowhere to Go (1959) is a rarely seen but uncompromisingly bleak character study that came late in the film noir cycle and was a distinctly British take on the genre. Opening with an ingenious prison breakout sequence, the film follows the escapee, Paul Gregory (George Nader), as he makes his way to a hideout where he recalls the circumstances that brought him to his current predicament. In flashbacks, we see how Gregory, posing as a struggling playwright, managed to charm a wealthy widow into letting him handle the sale of her late husband's valuable coin collection. An experienced con artist, Gregory double-crosses his client, selling the collection for hard cash and depositing it in a safety lock box of which he has the only key. Later, when he's picked up as the logical robbery suspect, Gregory pleads guilty, thinking he'll get off in a few months but instead, the judge decides to make an example of him and increases his sentence to ten years. Once Gregory escapes from prison, his life takes a swift downward turn; his former partner (Bernard Lee) savagely beats him and steals his safety box key, most of his underworld acquaintances shun him and he finds himself stranded without money or lodging. Soon he's on the run again, suspected of his partner's murder, and only one woman (Maggie Smith), who he barely knows, offers him refuge. But why would she risk it?
Among the many pleasures of watching Nowhere to Go is the evocative black and white cinematography of Paul Beeson which gives us a crook's tour of London complete with back streets, dive bars, shabby flats and seedy neighborhoods. A mood of desolation and overwhelming loneliness is further conveyed through the film's score composed by jazz musician Dizzy Reece and performed by his quintet. But more importantly the film marks the appearance of Maggie Smith in her first major film role (she had previously appeared in a bit part in Child in the House, 1956). As Bridget Howard, the woman who befriends Gregory and agrees to hide him near her family's home in Wales, she makes an indelible impression as a somewhat disillusioned but impulsive woman who continues to place her trust in men that don't deserve her.
Prior to appearing in Nowhere to Go, Smith was working exclusively in the theatre and Kenneth Tynan, a drama critic for the Observer and a script editor at Ealing Studios, was partially responsible for her being cast in the film (He co-wrote the screenplay with director Seth Holt). As for Holt, Nowhere to Go marked his directorial film debut and for a while, his career looked promising with features like Scream of Fear (1961), a superior psychological horror film in the Hitchcock mode, and Station Six-Sahara (1962) - a favorite film of Martin Scorsese - being favorably reviewed by the press and renown critics. But Holt never graduated to A-level projects, partially due to personal problems from alcoholism, and he died unexpectedly in 1971, during the filming of Blood from the Mummy's Tomb.
The real surprise of Nowhere to Go is George Nader in the role of the debonair confidence man; it's an impressive performance that goes from cool self-confidence to sheer desperation. Yet Nader was rarely given the opportunity to play challenging roles or give a genuine performance in most of his Hollywood films. In those he was marketed as a beefcake hero in movies like Lady Godiva and The Second Greatest Sex (both 1955). Except for the notoriously bad Robot Monster (1953), however, most American moviegoers are probably unfamiliar with his work, though in Europe Nader has a cult following due to his appearance in a series of spy thrillers as secret agent Jerry Cotton. For many years it was rumored that Nader's Hollywood career was sabotaged by his own studio, Universal, which felt pressure from the tabloids to expose gay actors. The story goes that the studio sacrificed Nader's career in order to save Rock Hudson's much more lucrative one. At any rate, Nader relocated to Europe where he found steady work in films until he had a serious car accident. After that he turned to writing and one of his novels, Chrome (1978), a sci-fi thriller featuring gay robots, has earned an underground following of sorts.
Producer: Michael Balcon
Director: Basil Dearden, Seth Holt
Screenplay: Seth Holt, Kenneth Tynan; based on the novel by Donald MacKenzie
Art Direction: Alan Withy
Cinematography: Paul Beeson
Editing: Harry Aldous
Music: Dizzy Reece
Cast: George Nader (Paul Gregory), Bernard Lee (Vic Sloane), Bessie Love (Harriet Jefferson), Maggie Smith (Bridget Howard), Geoffrey Keen (Inspector Scott).
by Jeff Stafford