Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

'70s British gangster movies

London is such an expensive (practically unaffordable), flash metropolis now that its a real delight to re-visit that seedy city of the 1970s - which I remember from my 20s then - with its cheap rooms and jobs where spivs and various grubby lowlifes ruled - from Burton's gangster in VILLAIN - made the same year 1971 as Caine's GET CARTER, to essential thrillers like THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY. Here we look at VILLAIN, THE SQUEEZE, SITTING TARGET, HENNESSY, PERFECT FRIDAY, and a Trash 70s classic THE LEGACY - giving employment to a lot of our favoutires and stuffed with all those British character actors earning a crust here.   These are all as good as our '70s Brit favourites like Steiger and Lee Remick in the IRA drama HENNESSY or that amiable John Wayne western set in 70s London: BRANNIGAN. The seedy early 70s London is also caught in ALL COPPERS ARE - a recent discovery - all at London/Trash labels - along with GOOBYE GEMINI and cult trash classic DORIAN GRAY

VILLAIN,1971. Vic Dakin, a sadistic gang leader and a mother-obsessed homosexual modeled on real-life gangster Ronnie Kray, is worried about potential stool pigeons that may bring down his criminal empire. Vic, who enjoys playing at rough trade with his sidekick Wolfe, plans a payroll robbery and directs the blackmailing of Members of Parliament with a taste for unorthodox sex. Scotland Yard Police Inspector Matthews, playing Javert to Vic's Jean Valjean, is moving in on him and the gang. Gang-member Edgar is hospitalized for an ulcer, and Inspector Matthews might be able to make him sing. Will Edgar spill the beans to the coppers before Vic can silence him?
Richard Burton seems to be having a lot of fun here, Cathleen Nesbitt again plays his doting old mother (as in 1969's terrible STAIRCASE) whom he takes on day trips to Brighton, and there is a great gallery of supporting faces. Burton's boytoy Ian McShane also gets it on with '60s dolly bird Fiona Lewis (topless again) - though unlike the same year's SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY there are no intimate scenes between the men, Vic usually punches Wolfe, maybe thats their foreplay (below) .... Nigel Davenport and Colin Welland (a PC Plod type) are the cops closing in, Donald Sinden is ideal as the corrupt Member of Parliament, Joss Ackland and T.P. McKenna flesh out Vic's associates, as do James Cossins, Tony Welby and Del Henney - the rapist from that year's STRAW DOGS).  
VILLAIN holds its own in the violence stakes, the payroll robbery is botched and things start to go wrong for our beleagured Villain. Its a prime contender for a great 70s crime drama.  Michael Tuchner directs from a script by comedy writers Dick Clement and Ian la Frenais who later gave us their own more comic Swinging London thriller OTLEY in 1968 with Tom Courtenay and Romy Schneider and another gallery of supporting players, including yes Fiona Lewis again.  

SITTING TARGET, 1972, by contrast is nasty and brutal with no redeeming features - Oliver Reed is in his element as he snarls and seethes through this brute force crime thriller, ably directed by Douglas Hickox (ENTERTAINING MR SLOANE, THEATRE OF BLOOD). Olly is uber-thug Harry Lomart who easily breaks out of prison with his sidekick Birdy (Ian McShane again)  and they go on the run, Olly though wants to track down and kill his faithless wife (Jill St John) who has told him she wants a divorce and is pregnant by another man. 
This is all grimly realistic with authentic South London locations - those tower blocks around Battersea and Victoria (as in ALL COPPERS ARE) though St John is hilariously miscast here as the Battersea housewife, with June Brown (Dot Cotton from EASTENDERS) as her next-door neighbour. This is a role that cries out for Carol White or Billie Whitelaw who would be ideal here dishing up greasy breakfasts with a cigarette dangling from their lips. The violence and the shootups continue in this cold, drab London until the climax and the wife's secret lover is revealed .... Edward Woodward, Frank Finlay, Freddie Jones are able support.

THE SQUEEZE from 1977, long unseen here, is however the real deal. I like this one a lot, and it will be due for a rewatch. Tough and brutal yes, but stylish too as a great cast go head to head, as directed by Michael Apted (TRIPLE ECHO, THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER and still directing now). This is back to 70s London with a vengance, that city of cheap clothes and cheap cars, and grubby rooming houses. Stacey Keach is terrific as Jim Naboth, the shambolic shambling alcoholic ex-cop whom we first see drunk falling down the escalator of the underground - he is as memorable as he was in Huston's FAT CITY. His sidekick who looks after him is, oddly, comedian Freddie Starr, playing it straight here.
A vicious gang kidnaps a woman and her daughter (plus dog) to extort money from her rich husband. He and her down on his luck ex-husband who's an ex cop, decide to try to deal with the kidnappers themselves.
The kidnap scene is nicely handled in the park. The seedy underworld is nicely served up by Stephen Boyd as a frightening mobster - this was Boyd's last main role, he died that year aged 45 and again when playing nasty (as in BEN HUR or GENGHIS KHAN) he ramps it up to the max. 
The main hood is oily David Hemmings, in a good late role too. Edward Fox for once is lively and the kidnapped wife is Carol White, that ill-fated one of the new British girls of the 60s who went from being a child actress (CARRY ON TEACHER) to hits like CATHY COME HOME, UP THE JUNCTION, POOR COW, a foray to Hollywood and dying aged 48 in 1991. The most difficult scene here is where the bored kidnappers force her to strip for their amusement, to a Stylistics song and we see the character's desperation and humiliation, and perhaps the actress's too, it is all brutally unerotic. Keach too is stripped and humiliated by Boyd and his henchman and has to return home stark naked, not even left his grubby underwear. 
The sleaze seems piled up here as the drama unfolds and of course all goes wrong. THE SQUEEZE remains an eye-popping revenge thriller capturing 70s London perfectly (gritty locations, a cigarette smoke-fugged London Underground, dismal pubs and Soho 'massage parlours', and a pre-gentrified Battersea and Clapham - expensive areas now) with a dynamic cast, with several of our favourites here.

HENNESSEY, 1975. A fascinating view now. This thriller was barely seen back in the ‘70s and not at all here since, dealing as it does with the IRA and 'the Troubles' in Northern Ireland. I imagine it was too close for comfort then, and the preposterous plot about blowing up the Houses of Parliament during The Queen’s State Opening ceremony, would hardly have been met with approval. This American-International title though keeps one engrossed, they certainly cast it well, from the opening riot in Belfast – scenes we were familiar with at the time, hardly “entertainment” though. 
The story – by actor Richard Johnson, playing a hard-boiled detective here – features Niall Hennessy, whom Rod Steiger plays in regular scenery-chomping mode, like where he sees his wife and daughter (young Patsy Kensit) killed accidentally in that riot as he falls on his knees in the street and howls like an animal. His revenge involves blowing up The Royal Family and the Houses of Parliament, as the IRA, led by diehard Eric Porter, begin to realise and have to follow him to London to stop him, as the consequences if he succeeds would be unimaginable. 
Enter Lee Remick in a thankless role as the Irish widow of a friend, who puts him up without realising what he is up to. Trevor Howard enjoys himself as the chief of Scotland Yard, and others involved include Peter Egan, Margery Mason. Don Sharp’s direction keeps it tight and engrossing as we watch Steiger preparing for his mission, as he impersonates a Member of Parliament. The State Opening is from an actual documentary cleverly intercut with the film, which almost convinces one it is the real thing. It is odd seeing a younger Royal Family here and real political figures like Ted Heath and Mrs Thatcher. It is all quite fascinating now and amusing too, apart from seeing Remick wasted in a thankless role - she and Steiger were a lot more fun in NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY in 1968..

PERFECT FRIDAY in 1970 seems tame and genteel by comparison, one of (Sir) Peter Hall's cinema forays at the time. A bank robbery caper, it captures the flavour of the era - particularly as Ursula Andress and Stanley Baker get out of their clothes. He is the timid deputy under manager of the bank where Lady Britt Dorset and her aristocrat husband David Warner require loans to prop up their lifestyle. Our deputy bank manager though has a plot of it his own and needs the impoverished toffs to carry it out, so who is going to doublec-cross who? Baker, Warner and Andress are all highly watchable - in our out of clothes - and it is an amusing forgettable trifle but pales in comparison with those brutal thrillers that came along later in the Seventies .... amusing now too to see that pre-"computer says no" world of banking with real managers who know their clients! 

and now for a 70s Trash classic: THE LEGACY. This schlock horror film from 1978 has it all - Katharine Ross (sort of reprising her STEPFORD WIVES role) and her real-lifre husband Sam Elliott as the Americans in England and being forced to stay at a spooky country pile, stuffed with odd characters: Margaret Tyzack as that creepy nurse, The Who's Roger Daltry as a rock star, Charles Gray and John Standing, Lee Montague, Hildegarde Neil and more .... what power is keeping them there?
SPOILERS AHEAD: (It turns out they are the descendents of a 17th century witch who was burnt at the stake and who are gathered at an English country house in the hope of receiving part of the family legacy, but why is Katharine included? We wonder until she sees that portrait of the witch from centuries before and she realises she is the chosen one... Then all those nasty deaths - one consumed by flames, another chokes on a chicken bone, a mirror shatters and the fragments impale another, and theres that fatal tumble down the stairs ... to say any more would be too much ! 
Sam too takes a naked walk to the shower where the water suddenly gets too hot to handle and he has to break the glass to get out, more blood ... This kind of thing (from a Jimmy Sangster story) was lapped up by audiences back in the 70s, usually as part of double bills, dabbling with the supernatural, or in this case a version of Agatha Christie and who gets killed next? 
(Pop star Fabian too choked to death in that 1965 version of Christie's TEN LITTLE INDIANS, a camp favouirite of ours, so Roger should have known where his part was going ...). Ross's unique glamour and all that hair are agan well used here, if only the material had been better, still its quite entertaining of its type. Still, I dare say they had a lot of fun making it. Directed by Richard Marquand.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for giving me some idea about the story of “VILLIAN”, one of the famous gangster movies. Actually I was planning from many days to watch it, but could do that. But now I think I should not wait to get the time for watching this nice movie.