The Small World of Sammy Lee

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The Small World of Sammy Lee
The Small World of Sammy Lee.jpg
Directed by Ken Hughes
Screenplay by Ken Hughes
Based onstory by Ken Hughes
Produced by Alec C. Snowden
Starring Anthony Newley
Julia Foster
Robert Stephens
Cinematography Wolfgang Suschitzky
Edited by Henry Richardson
Music by Kenny Graham
Elgin Films
Distributed by British Lion Films (UK)
Bryanston Films
Seven Arts Pictures
Release date
April 1963 (UK)
Running time
107 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget£190,067 [1]
Box office£49,981 (UK) [2]

The Small World of Sammy Lee [3] is a 1963 British crime film written and directed by Ken Hughes and starring Anthony Newley, Julia Foster and Robert Stephens. [4] A striptease-show compere is hunted across the seedy London underworld of Soho by debt collectors. [5]


Synopsis and outline

Sammy Lee has five hours to pay off a gambling debt.

The film was based on a 1958 television play written and directed by Ken Hughes which also featured Anthony Newley in the lead.


Original TV Version

The story was originally filmed for BBC TV by Hughes as Sammy in 1958. This version was a one person show and starred Newley. [6]

Variety called it "a masterful piece of work." [7]


This in turn was adapted for American TV in 1958 as Eddie on Alcoa Theatre . It starred Mickey Rooney and was directed by Jack Smight. [8] The production was censored at the last minute - during the final scene Rooney's character is beaten up, but the sponsors worried this was too violent. So instead the screen went dark for twenty seconds. [9]

Variety called it "interesting, at times exciting." [10]

Both Rooney and Smight won Emmies for the show. [11]


The original TV play was very successful and Hughes had requests to turn it into a feature, but he was reluctant, considering that the one-person aspect of the story was crucial. Eventually he decided to adapt it, but disliked the job he did. "I did everything wrong," he said. "I opened the story out in all the obvious ways. I showed what was happening at the other end of the telephone calls for instance when Sammy's end was all that was really needed." He then did another version which he liked. [12]

In June 1962 it was announced Anthony Newley would star in the film version. Newley had just achieved a London stage success in Stop the World I Want to Get Off and would shortly repeat this success on Broadway. The film of Sammy was co produced by Kenneth Hyman of Seven Arts. [13] It was one of Seven Arts' first distribution efforts. [14] Newley called it "the drama of the perennial loser." [15]

Julia Foster played the female lead. She says Ken Hughes was "scary... and he frightened me slightly". Foster said later when she confronted him about this, the director said he did that deliberately to make her feel more vulnerable. [16] She appeared nude in the film which was rare at the time. [17]


Music for the film was composed by Kenny Graham; a soundtrack album did not appear at the time of the film's release, but one was later released by Trunk Records in 2013.



The New York Times called it "monotonous". [18]

Filmink later said "The film contains much to admire, including superb photography and acting... and a glimpse of Soho of the time. It is repetitive (Sammy tries to get money, almost gets it, doesn’t) and how much you like it will very much depend on your opinion of Anthony Newley." [19]

Box Office

The film was a box office disaster and caused Bryanston to lose £80,000. [2] Hughes said "nobody came near me" after the film came out. [20]

Reputation today

Andrew Pulver wrote in November 2016 for The Guardian , at the time of the film's re-release: "It’s a genuine curiosity: the last knockings of black-and-white, beat-influenced hipster cinema before a tide of gaudily-coloured, new wave-inspired, pop art films. Ken Hughes, its director, reached back to the pre-war working-class bohemianism so perfectly captured by Graham Greene and Gerald Kersh". [21]

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  1. Petrie, Duncan James (2017). "Bryanston Films : An Experiment in Cooperative Independent Production and Distribution" (PDF). Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television: 7. ISSN   1465-3451.
  2. 1 2 Petrie p 13
  3. The Small World of Sammy Lee (1963) , retrieved 6 June 2017
  5. SMALL WORLD OF SAMMY LEE, The Monthly Film Bulletin; London Vol. 30, Iss. 348, (Jan 1, 1963): 80.
  6. "Sammy". 26 March 1958. p. 19 via BBC Genome.
  7. Review of TV play Sammy at Variety
  8. THE TV SCENE---: Du Pont Goes In for Safety First Smith, Cecil. Los Angeles Times 17 Nov 1958: A8.
  9. THE TV SCENE---: Industry Leaning Heavily on Tapes Smith, Cecil. Los Angeles Times 19 Nov 1958: A10.
  10. Review of Eddie at Variety
  11. 8 PLAYS FACE TEST AT BUSY WESTPORT: Tryouts in Summer Theatre Called Less Expensive -- Smight to Stage Show By, LOUIS CALTA. New York Times 21 July 1960: 16.
  12. LONDON SCREEN SCENE: Edward G. Robinson Returns To Work --Second 'Sammy'--Sequel Plans By STEPHEN WATTS. New York Times 23 Sep 1962: 135.
  13. Claire Bloom, Julie Harris in 'Haunting': 'Blithe Spirit' for Zsa Zsa; TV's Schaefer Plots Pair Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 25 June 1962: C11.
  14. SEVEN ARTS ENTERS MOVIE DISTRIBUTION New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]23 May 1963: 31.
  16. "The Small World of Sammy Lee New Interview with Julia Foster". Studiocanal UK You Tube. 8 May 2017.
  17. VANESSA FACES UP TO THE STARK FACTS ... OF ART FOR ART'S SAKE... London Life; London (Oct 15, 1966): 6-7
  18. Screen: A Look at Sammy's World: By BOSLEY CROWTHER. New York Times 14 Aug 1963: 28.
  19. Vagg, Stephen (14 November 2020). "Ken Hughes Forgotten Auteur". Filmink.
  20. MOVIES: Hughes' 'Cromwell' Was Made With Malice Aforethought SHIVAS, MARK. Los Angeles Times 20 Dec 1970: m30.
  21. Pulver, Andrew (8 November 2016). "The great lost London beat thriller: why to watch The Small World of Sammy Lee". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 November 2016.