In the Nick (1960)

In this  nonmusical sequel to Jazz Boat,   small-time gangster Spider Kelly ( James Booth) and his cronies do time in a soft, experimental prison.    The  idealistic  prison psychiatrist Newcomb (played by Anthony Newley)  tries to reform Spider and his gang through trust and kindness. Cynically exploiting that trust,  Spider seizes control of the prison's internal black market.  When the prison authorities discover this, they "punish"  Spider and his gang by giving them  the plum assignment of running the prison farm.  Again Spider devises a scam by which he and his gang can profit at the prison's expense.  

 Desperate to  find some way to get through to Spider, Newcombe turns to Spider's girlfriend, The Doll (Anne Aubrey)  She's working as a stripper but  wants Spider to settle down and marry her. The shrink and the stripper discover they share a common cause in reforming Spider, but both agree that he's "hard to get to."

But whereas Newley's character in Jazz Boat stole Booth's girlfriend, here Newley's character is far too ethical to act on such desires. Even when The Doll throws herself at him, Newcombe demurs  (causing her to observe, "You're pretty square, aren't you?" ).   Newcombe tells The Doll that  Spider loves her more than he lets on. He also tells  tells her that Spider has an IQ of 150.  And he lends her a big, thick psychology book.  

The Doll is pretty smart herself. She actually reads the book and discovers the key to Spider's personality:  "The delinquent fears rejection."  This gives her an idea.  She adopts an exaggeratedly conservative, genteel persona and visits the prison to tell Spider,  "I won't won't marry a hoodlum, and I have every intention of getting married."  

Dumfounded to speechless at first, Spider broods over the ultimatum.  As expected, he'd rather change than give her up.  He calls a halt to his scams, devotes his abilities to helping the prison make a profit, and uses his own ill-gotten gains to buy expensive presents for everybody and stage a Christmas pantomime in the prison.  The pantomime concludes with a "Jack and the Beanstalk" skit designed to provide a cover for the escape of Spider and his gang.  

You want things to work out between Spider and The Doll.  They seem perfect for each other--not just because he's a criminal and she's a stripper and they both have over-the-top nicknames,  but because they have complete faith in each other.  ("When I tell the Doll to do something, she does it," says Spider.  "If Spider says he'll be here, he'll be here," says The Doll.)  And, ultimately, things do work out and there's a happy ending.

With lovable criminals, curmudgeoney guards, and a country-club prison,  In the Nick presents a wildly cheery and cutsified vision of crime and punishment, in spirit hovering somewhere near The Pirates of Penzance.  The ex-con Frank Norman, author of Fings Aint Wot They Used T'Be, co-wrote the screenplay.

Booth  has some funny scenes in a  Father Christmas suit and looks fantastically hot and  goth as hell in (of all things) his "Idle Jack" costume (white poet shirt, dark leggings and vest) .



(c) Text copyright Diana Blackwell 2004



Review of In the Nick in  Monthly Film Bulletin, 8/1960