Directed by Michael Winner, West 11 was his eighth feature film and the first to have any notable success. It’s set in a pre-Swinging London Notting Hill of the ‘60s, and it’s an existential hitman film, not unlike his later, bigger-budget film The Mechanic. The story centres on a guy called Joe Beckett (Alfred Lynch), an unemployed misfit drifter who gets propositioned to kill someone for a lot of money. Richard Dyce (Eric Portman) is the man behind the murder-for-hire scheme.
While the film doesn’t have much of a plot, it does have a great sense of time and place. They hit all the hip jazz clubs, and it’s a picture of a very seedy scene. It includes some fairly overt drug references, which must have gone over the heads of the censors at the time. There’s also a scene with Brian Wilde from Porridge appearing as a speaker for a right-wing political party called, presciently, Britain First who gets shouted down (given that Winner was known for being extremely right-wing, this is surprising, but Morrissey probably loves this film for all the wrong reasons).
The cinematography is by Otto Heller, a Czech cinematographer who mainly worked in Britain. Heller shot a lot of the most interesting British films of the ‘60s, including Peeping Tom, Victim, The Ipcress File, Alfie and, earlier than that, The Ladykillers. The way the film is shot gives it a sort of existentialist vibe, with some fantastic location photography. It’s a surprising little movie despite a plot that’s kind of “whatever”—I ended up being quite impressed, given that I’m incredibly hit and miss with British films from that era. The aimless narrative works because it reflects the protagonist.
Winner wanted Sean Connery or Oliver Reed for the lead, but that wasn’t going to happen. He was also looking for Julie Christie to play the role of Joe’s on-again/off-again love interest, but that role was filled by Kathleen Breck instead. Breck is really good, but she quit acting to marry Alan Scott, whiskey heir and the screenwriter who wrote the original script for The Queen’s Gambit which he served as co-creator/executive producer. Diana Dors appears as a woman who is “old enough to get a husband but not young enough to get the kind I want!,” as she says in the film. She is very good in the small bit pivotal role in the film.
I recommend giving this one a shot, you might be pleasantly surprised, including if you don’t much like Winner’s other movies. At times it’s like a kitchen-sink version of The Mechanic, only without any explosions.
This re-release continues Studio Canal’s weird requirement that almost any older film needs a content warning, which plays before the logo. There’s no real need for it. The disc includes an interview with film historian Matthew Sweet and the theatrical trailer.