Every so often an unknown film comes along to sweep you off your feet. I absolutely loved 'Payroll (1961)'; I found it gripping and thrilling and everything that a good noir should be. I've always been particularly impressed with British takes on the style ('Brighton Rock (1947)'; 'Odd Man Out (1947)'; 'Night and the City (1950)'), perhaps due to the frequent use of on-location photography, which gives the story a refreshingly gritty edge. Sidney Hayers' 'Payroll' was shot on the blustery streets of Newcastle. Johnny Mellors (Michael Craig) heads a ragtag group of criminals intent on hijacking the wage delivery of a local factory, contained within the walls of a seemingly impenetrable armoured truck. Their approach isn't exactly subtle – a far cry from the breathless heists of 'The Asphalt Jungle (1950)' and 'Rififi (1955)' – but is nevertheless effective.
Post-robbery, with the heat of law enforcement on their backs, the crooks begin to turn on each other, their best-laid plans delicately curling into ashes. While the police scramble about for leads, Jackie Parker (Billie Whitelaw)– the wife of a man killed during the heist – decides to take matters into her own hands. The film thankfully doesn't overplay this angle (which always has the potential to become an outing with Miss Marple), but there's one adroit scene where, strolling past the home of one of the heist participants, Jackie suddenly puts all the pieces together: a man drops a wife home, followed shortly thereafter by another man
the husband. With its gritty, unsympathetic realism, and a flair for taut, fatalistic storytelling, 'Payroll' deserves a far wider audience, and certainly ranks up there with the best of British film noir.