Director: Michael Winner
Screenplay: Keith Waterhouse & Willis Hall
Starring: Alfred Lynch, Kathleen Breck, Eric Portman, Diana Dors, Harold Lang
Running Time: 89 mins
BBFC Classification: 15
An early feature from Michael Winner, better known for his Death Wish movies and more exploitative features such as The Sentinel and Dirty Weekend, West 11 is a gritty crime thriller following the life and times of the slightly seedy Joe Becket, a young man who finds it hard to keep down a job or a relationship of any kind for that matter. Joe, in his own words, is ‘an emotional leper’ and a seasoned citizen of grotty bedsits and meaningless flings.
The first time we meet Joe (Alfred Lynch) he appears to fall out with his latest bedroom conquest and heads across town to his place of work, currently a gentleman’s tailors. His morning’s activities are accompanied by a wonderful jazzy score by Aker Bilk and Stanley Black. On arriving at work his jobs-worthy manager berates him on being late and, when he fails to make a sale later on in the day, he’s fired – although he insists on quitting!
We soon learn that Joe has an on-off relationship with the gorgeous Ilsa (Kathleen Breck) who seems to like him more than most of her would-be suitors because he generally treats her with the same indifference that she treats most of her own casual flings.
As Joe drifts around finding it hard to commit to any job or any relationship, (even with his own mum), he encounters an ex-military man, Richard Dyce, who, sensing Joe’s general lack of empathy, has a business proposition for him. Dyce basically wants Joe to kill off a rich aunt of his so that he can claim her inheritance. At first Joe is reluctant, not because the act of killing bothers him in particular, but because he doesn’t trust Richard and doesn’t want to get involved. However, when he realises that he actually cares about Georgie, after she starts seeing a guy who she seems serious about, and money starts to get tight for him, he changes his mind and agrees to do Dyce’s dirty work for him.
Michael Winner took a lot of stick over the years for the films that he directed; much of it rather unfair. Sure, Winner was never a brilliant director, but a good deal of the criticism that he received was more to do with his rather irritating public persona than his actual body of work. But for every Won Ton Ton or Bullseye that he directed there was a decent film such as The Stone Killer, Chato’s Land or West 11.
West 11, (which is based on the novel ‘The Furnished Room’ by Laura Del Rivo) stands as an accomplished tale about alienation, amorality and disillusionment amid the seedier side of early-sixties Notting Hill. Winner makes good use of an excellent cast, including a nicely nuanced performance by Diana Dors who plays Richard’s reluctant moll with a lonely vulnerability.
Part poor man’s Strangers on a Train and part sleazy Alfie, West 11 follows the trials and tribulations of the renegade son of middle-class parents turning from being a somewhat disconnected arsehole to a young man who realises he’s got more principles than he thought he had, and also turning into someone who finds out that he does have the capacity to love.
A couple of my favourite scenes involve quite intimate scenes, firstly between Joe and his mother (who chides him about his lack of commitment and prospects) and, secondly, between Joe and ex-soldier Dyce when the latter presents our main protagonist with the gun that he wants the younger man to kill his aunt with. Both scenes are mesmerising to watch for different reasons, but mainly because of their ultra-realistic and intense nature.
West 11 is nicely photographed, well acted, and is competently directed by Winner. It’s also a very intelligent film and serves as an insightful exposé on the nature of loneliness and on the sexual politics of the time.
Apart from a couple of wobbly crane/helicopter shots and a few scenes that I didn’t really think added anything to the main narrative, I thought West 11 was a clever and thought-provoking film and definitely well worth seeing; at least the once. Plus, I have to say that the film’s ending is up there with the final departure scene from Casablanca in the unrequited love stakes.
West 11 has recently been released on DVD and is being distributed by Network Distributing which is currently releasing lots of these rarer British film titles.
Extras consist of an X-certificate trailer for the film, with added emphasis on the ‘swinging’ sixties vibe of the film; some extended scenes, including additional conversational bits in the bedroom break-up scene, which ends in us seeing the unclothed version of Ilsa being thrown out of Joe’s apartment; and an image gallery of 22 stills, including six posters plus the usual behind-the-scenes shots and glamour photo spreads.