Thursday, 5 May 2011

And Now The Screening Starts...or "I've seen a better film on my teeth!"

Villain. (1971) dir. Michael Tuchner starring Richard Burton, Ian MacShane, Joss Ackland, Fiona Lewis,

Imagine "The Krays" scripted by the writers of "The Likely Lads". There are no gentle treatises on male identity here though, just a seething turnip-faced madman throwing a croupier out of a window. Meet Vic Dakin, East End mummie's boy and all-round bad egg, and the dropper of the afore-mentioned croupier from a great height, just because he assumes that he might be about to talk to the police. Imagine, if this is what he does to a croupier what would he do to you or I; simple, humble folk? The croupier does talk but only to ask Vic not to hurt him. This makes Vic despise him even more and he does not comply with his wishes. Next Vic's going about his business: being rude to a man with an acid stomach and dissing the general public: "Punters," he snarls, "telly all week and a fuck on Saturday!". Which sounds alright to me, actually.

The only thing he doesn't despise is pretty-boy Ian MacShane's Wolf, (that's his name, not an exotic pet) whom he fancies rotten. You can tell he fancies him as he repeatedly punches him in the stomach and flings money at him so that he can "buy a new suit".

Don't waste any tears on Wolf though, he makes his money pimping posh totty Fiona Lewis (airing her tits like a greivance) to ageing satyr Donald Sinden (every man in this film is a stuffed envelope or a stuffed bra away from corruption). MacShane's Wolf is very similar to Tony Curtis' turn as Sydney Falco in "The Sweet Smell of Success*"; two weasly, street-smart hustlers trading on their good looks. Except in that film, a decade earlier and American, Curtis only sustains a metaphorical bumming. MacShane isnt quite so lucky (though to be honest we never see him take more than a punch in the guts).

Hot on the trail of Vic and his glam-rock associates (only a horse-brass shy of being in Mud) are the indomitable Colin "The English are coming" Welland and a bloke. You can tell they're coppers because they wear trench-coats all the time and rough up narks outside betting shops. Time is surely running out for Dakin with these bloodhounds on his trail. So when Dakin sets up a job with fellow East-end toughnut T.P. McKenna (silver-haired and puckish; imagine Gay Byrne essaying a cockney gang-boss - he disappears halfway through the film and is never spoken of again). This job is well off Vic's patch and involves a suitcase with go-go gadget legs you know he's on a hiding to nothing.

I'm not a big fan of "grit". There's a world of difference between Giallo's rich, red blood, ornate stage sets and neatly appointed studio apartments and the grey and brown, mitten-on-a-railing mien of seventies London. This is a London where blue-skinned strippers perform in pasties with sleepy snakes and a gang-land boss lives in a few pokey rooms with his mum upstairs. But there is a lot to love in this film: Burton's committment to glaring madly at everyone and his lack of committment to his accent which veers from Sid James to James Cagney depending on his level of apoplexy. MacShane is appropriately oily as Wolf, but crucially, is good looking enough to get away with it; insinuating in his honeyed Northern tones (another suspiciously north-of-Watford cockney - what happened to Eastend equity in the seventies? Were they all in Hollywood playing hairdressers?). The script is littered with juicy one-liners and harder hitting than you might imagine. And I did enjoy one Clement/La Franais aside: when Vic gets serious he wants to bring "the tough-nuts down from Newcastle". Surprisingly Bob Ferris and Terry Collier don't make an appearance.

* A properly brilliant film. I should probably review that too.


  1. I like of this one. I like seeing Lovejoy when young, and without the abominable 'Tinker'.

  2. If you like THAT Ian McShane then you'll love him in Tam Lin. The only film ever directed by Roddy MacDowell its a version of the famous folk ballad and stars Ava Gardner as the faerie queen. It is both brilliant and ineptly rendered - which is my favourite cinematic equation.