Inexplicably taking its name from a 1939 romantic ballad that was recorded enough times over the years to become a crusty standard, the weak heist comedy A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square stars the American actor Richard Jordan as an amiable criminal operating on foreign soil. When the UK-made picture begins, Pinky (Jordan) earns parole from a British prison by way of good behavior, promising his jailors that he plans to make an honest living as an electrical engineer. Stretching credibility way past the breaking point, Pinky soon lands a job at a major bank—because, apparently, British financial institutions don’t perform background checks on prospective employees. Anyway, Pinky plays things straight until he inadvertently reconnects with local crime lord Ivan (David Niven), who coerces Pinky into helping Ivan and his crooked gang rob the bank. Various twists and turns ensue, most of which are predictable.
Although neither writer Guy Elmes nor director Ralph Thomas add much to the vocabulary of heist movies—quite to the contrary, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square is thoroughly forgettable and generic—the filmmakers benefit from a pair of nimble leading players. Jordan, the handsome stage-trained actor who generally fared better with heavy dramatic material, is left adrift throughout much of the movie, because the filmmakers seem unsure about whether to present Jordan’s character as cocksure or sincere. Nonetheless, Jordan lands a few key moments with emotional authenticity, especially during scenes depicting his character under duress. Costar Niven, meanwhile, effortlessly steals the movie with his carefree-urbanite routine, even though the plot requires viewers to accept Niven as having the potential to become a cold-blooded killer. Still, whenever Jordan as the crude and swaggering American is juxtaposed with Niven as the masterful and suave Englishman, it’s possible to see the culture-clash patter the filmmakers presumably envisioned.
Supporting players Richard Johnson and Oliver Tobias add welcome flavors to the mix as, respectively, a dogged police inspector and Pinky’s best friend. Lost in the shuffle, however, are actresses Gloria Grahame and Elke Sommer. Grahame’s role as the mother of Tobias’ character is inconsequential, and Sommer merely provides eye candy by wearing a succession of slinky outfits and appearing in a laughably gratuitous nude scene. Another problem with the choppily edited movie is the terrible music score by the normally reliable Stanley Myers; the main theme sounds like the house band from Hee-Haw trying to play the theme from The Benny Hill Show.
A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square: FUNKY