Michel Gagnant (director)
93 minutes (length)
July 05, 2021 (published)
The opening shot crosses a Notting Hill skyline and Acker Bilk’s immediately identifiable bass clarinet sets the scene too well. The actual plot begins with the misguided Joe Beckett (Alfred Lynch) – who wrote “loser” all over him – leaving his filthy bed after spending the night with his rather posh and somewhat awkward girlfriend Ilsa Barnes (little actress known Kathleen Breck) – always on the lookout to make sure her landlady Mrs. Hartley (Freda Jackson) doesn’t catch them red-handed because she doesn’t allow that sort of thing at her respectable guesthouse. Joe then gets to work – which means a dreary day job at a stuffy gentlemen’s outfitter on the Strand. Quite what a guy like Joe who loves jazz does in a dead end job like this, well, who knows! Joe is quickly fired on the spot by the little swift / unofficial store manager for not pushing a sale and showing a bad attitude (Joe is always late to start). This dismal incident is seen by a potential client: a man named Richard Dyce (a nicely cast hoarse-voice Eric Portman)… a fake ex-major in the military if there is one. Shady Dyce sees some potential in Joe and immediately concocts a plan. In no time it becomes apparent that Dyce is a con artist, highlighted by his question to the stuffy store manager. Dyce: “What regimental ties do you have? “Store manager:” Which regiment? Dyce: “What’s the matter?
Then he follows Joe to a nearby Wimpy bar where he tries to avoid paying for his coffee, shortly after the couple walk into a pub where Dyce lets Joe know he likes him. Joe soon realizes that Dyce has put a tail on him – a scruffy individual called Jacko (Peter Reynolds) who follows him around. It was providential – but not in a pleasant way that Dyce had met Joe for the first time.
Joe invites the ‘Major’ to a bottle party later that night and his spoiled chic girlfriend kid (who never seems to have money on his mind) is also there. However, he finds himself smooching with the voluptuous “mother of the earth” Georgia (the always reliable Diana Dors) on the couch. Much to the chagrin of the Major who offers to fight him for her, Joe cannot be disturbed and leaves. Everything Georgia sees in this rather obnoxious old crook (who would later become her pumice) is also a little unfathomable. Things quickly go from bad to worse for our Joe when his landlady finally kicks him out (having finally caught him with Ilsa) and he leaves his meager things to the eccentric old hoarder Mr. Gash (Finlay Currie), a neighbor who has hundreds of books in his basement apartment in his search for the “truth.” In a later scene, Joe’s old mum (Kathleen Harrison) has a good chat with him in a park, hoping her son would revert to Catholicism and get married one day before she sniffs him… Of all the people, Mr. Gash comes to the jazz club to break the news to Joe. Indeed, his only accomplices are Georgia and the eccentric old hoarder, although neither is the solution to his problems. aunt even if it is not a case of the best plans ….
A number of things don’t really relate, but overall that doesn’t distract from the film’s poignant character. Alfred Lynch – who looks decidedly weather beaten – is performed well and appears in virtually every scene. You can spend a day on the pitch spotting uncredited players, one is a very young David Hemmings as a thug (a 3 minute appearance if that).
The film benefits from a screenplay by the winning team of Willis Hall and Keith Waterhouse. Ah, what happened to director Michael Winner? He had the right name, didn’t he? Sadly, the movies people associate Winner with these days are little better than outright undemanding commercial rates (Death Wish, anyone?), But Winner probably would have been the first to tell you that’s where the money is. The fact remains that his early career was very promising and this film is proof of that. WEST 11 is hands down one of his best films and has a lot to offer (based on a novel by Laura Del Rivo, then Notting Hill resident, which deserves to be better known).
Newly restored, WEST 11 is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital platforms with bonus (admittedly disappointing) material that only includes the original theatrical trailer and an interview with film historian Matthew Sweet. A portrait of author Laura Del Rivo and / or archival footage from Notting Hill in the 60s would have been cool!