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DVD/Blu-Ray: The Small World of Sammy Lee | reviews, news & interviews

DVD/Blu-Ray: The Small World of Sammy Lee

DVD/Blu-Ray: The Small World of Sammy Lee

Lost gem of London film noir restored in all its sleazy glory

Hunted man: Anthony Newley on the streets of Soho

In case one thought that turning hit TV shows into movies was a 21st century phenomenon, here comes a restoration of The Small World of Sammy Lee to prove that film-makers were at it back in 1963.

In case one thought that turning hit TV shows into movies was a 21st century phenomenon, here comes a restoration of The Small World of Sammy Lee to prove that film-makers were at it back in 1963.

Writer-director Ken Hughes's noir drama started off as Sammy, a tense, one-hour, one-location television play made in 1958. Its small screen success allowed Hughes to hire the incomparable documentary photographer Wolf Suschitzky as his DP and cast musical star Anthony Newley for the feature film version. Newley plays Sammy, a small-time hustler in Soho, dodging the bookies' heavies who are chasing him for gambling debts. The clock is ticking throughout the film, its tension heightened by his attempts to protect his naive young girlfriend (Julia Foster) from the seamy side of Soho.  

Suschitzky brilliantly captures the seediness of strip club economics

One of the great pleasures of the movie is seeing Sammy running through the streets of London – not just the alleyways and markets of Soho but also the Jewish East End when he turns in desperation to his grocer brother (played by Warren Mitchell) for a loan. Suschitzky brilliantly captures the seediness of strip club economics, and the bleakness of Victoria station in the small hours of the night. Alongside It Always Rains on Sunday, this is one of those great monochrome British films that allows us a glimpse into grimy post-war London, still scarred by the Blitz but showing signs of the energy which would erupt in the 1960s. It also boasts a wonderfully evocative original soundtrack by jazz composer Kenny Graham, who fuses vibraphones, breathy saxophone and a hint of klezmer music into the mix. 

This DVD/Blu-Ray release boasts some enjoyable extras – a then-and-now location tour by film historian and Soho afficionado Richard Dacre, an interview with actress Julia Foster and an expert appreciation by director Mike Hodges, who went on to use Wolf Suschitzky for his own London/Newcastle noir, Get Carter a few years later.

@saskiabaron

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