Wednesday 28 February 2018

Villain - 1971 film review

Villain is a British gangster movie made around the same time as Mike Hodges' Get Carter. If anything, it boasts an even better cast, led by Richard Burton, Ian McShane, Nigel Davenport, Donald Sinden, T.P. McKenna, Joss Ackland, and Colin Welland. The script, rather bizarrely, was written by Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais (more commonly associated with sitcoms), as well as an American writer. And the unsubtle soundtrack, I'm afraid, isn't a patch on Roy Budd's music for Get Carter. But it's an intriguing film, well worth watching, and based on a novel by James Barlow called The Burden of Proof.

Burton plays Vic Dakin, a sociopathic gay gang leader who is devoted to his mother but also susceptible to outbursts of violent temper. Evidently he was modelled on the Krays, His lover is Wolfie, played by McShane. Casting these two very charismatic male actors as a gay pair must have been a very audacious decision in 1971, and perhaps the audiences of that time weren't ready for it. Apparently a gay sex scene between the two men was cut from the film, but several rather nastily violent scenes were left in. Some of the violence in films (and even TV) in the Seventies seems very graphic and shocking when I watch it now. And the portrayal of pretty young women as sex objects is not only crude but also uninteresting. At least Britt Ekland was memorable in Get Carter..

Dakin and his crew get involved in an armed robbery that goes wrong, and the rest of the film deals with the consequences of the crime, as the cops, led by Davenport and Welland, pursue the bad guys with affable remorselessness. Sinden plays a crooked MP, alleged by some to be reminiscent of the late Lord Boothby, whom Wolfie blackmails into providing an alibi for Dakin.

This is a far from perfect film, for a variety of reasons, and not only because Burton's version of a Cockney accent is rather...well, Welsh. Get Carter is, in my opinion, a more sophisticated and effective film, but despite my reservations I must admit that I found myself quite gripped by Villain. The script is interesting, but really it's the star quality of the principal actors that stands out. . 

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