I was urged to watch Payroll by book dealer Jamie Sturgeon, and what a good recommendation it turned out to be. Filmed around Newcastle and Gateshead, and released in 1961, it anticipates Get Carter, a much more renowned gangster movie set in the north east, but makes compelling viewing. Part of this is due to an excellent script by George Baxt, based on a book by Derek Bickerton, and part to excellent acting from a cast that includes Billie Whitelaw, Kenneth Griffiths, Michael Craig, Tom Bell, and Glyn Houston.
It's a heist movie, as the title implies (the film's alternative title, I Promise to Pay, doesn't make much sense to me). A large business changes its payroll security arrangements, much to the dismay of a gang of robbers, led by Craig and including the menacing Bell in an early role as well as the flaky Griffiths. They have persuaded the firm's accountant, played by William Lucas, to help them - his' motive is to earn more money so as to keep his beautiful but demanding foreign wife (played, very well, by Francoise Prevost) happy. The new security system seems invincible, but Craig is determined to go on with his plan.
The result is tragic - in the raid on an armoured van, one member of the security team loses his life. His widow, played by Whitelaw with her customary intensity, determines to avenge him. Meanwhile, the robbers have lost one of their own men, and they soon begin to fall out among themselves. Further complications arise when Craig starts to take an interest in Prevost, whose role in the story proves to be pivotal.
The story is gripping, but the script also has depth, and the characterisation is subtler than I'd expected. Bell and Griffiths come to a very sticky end, quite literally, and the final scenes involving Craig and Prevost make for a suitably dramatic conclusion. I really enjoyed this one. The black and white location shots are highly atmospheric, and all in all, Id' say it's a hidden gem. Strongly recommended.