The Pot Carriers (1962) – Film Review
Director: Peter Graham Scott
Cast: Ronald Fraser, Paul Massie, Dennis Price
by Sarah Morgan
While some films are easy to describe, others are less straightforward to sum up. The Pot Carriers falls in the latter category.
It’s a social drama featuring some humour, and could also be regarded, almost 60 years since its cinema release, as a historical document – it certainly depicts what one imagines is a more realistic portrait of prison life than the sitcom Porridge, with which is shares some tropes.
At the centre of the story is James Rainbow, a first-time felon sentenced to 12 months for pulling a knife on a man trying to steal his girlfriend. When she reveals she’s always loved him and plans to organise their wedding to tie-in with his release date, he decides to get his head down and stay out of trouble in the hope of earning an early parole.
Rainbow shares a cell with old lags Red Band, who’s due to be released shortly, and the diminutive Mouse. They also work together in the prison kitchen, from which Red Band is running a variety of lucrative scams.
When one of them is discovered by the authorities and he takes revenge on the grass who betrayed him, it’s Rainbow who steps in to (almost literally) save his bacon.
Paul Massie, whom Hammer horror fans will recognise from his title role in The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll, is a little bland as the well-meaning Rainbow, who sacrifices himself for Red Band as a repayment for the older man taking him under his wing. Rainbow also hopes his selfless act will inspire his friend to go straight on the outside – although why he thinks that could be a possibility is anybody’s guess; Red Band establishes early on that he likes the criminal lifestyle.
The older man is portrayed by Ronald Fraser, a lovable presence in character roles from the late 1950s until his death in 1997. It’s his likability that makes Red Band compelling and sympathetic; in less charming hands he could merely have been a two-dimensional villain with no redeeming features.
“Worth a look”
Fraser was the only actor in the film to reprise his role from the ITV Play of the Week on which it was based; the screenplay was co-written by Mike Watts and is based on his own experiences of prison life.
Other familiar faces popping up throughout include Dennis Price, Davy Kaye, Alfred Burke and Neil McCarthy.
All-in-all it’s well worth a look, and reminds this reviewer of a cross between the aforementioned Porridge and the far more serious prison drama The Quare Fellow, a film based on a Brendan Behan play, coincidentally released the same year.
And if you’re wondering where the title comes from, it alludes to the practice of men clearing out their slop buckets after a night in the cells. Delightful, eh?