Michael Tuchner (director)
30 March 2020 (released)
01 April 2020
Based on a novel by now near forgotten journalist / writer James Barlow entitled 'The Burden of Proof' this 1971 gangster film is very much a vehicle for its then mega-star Richard 'The Voice' Burton.
Very few would be acquainted with the now long out of print book which was written in '1968 but here we see Burton as psychotic and gay East End gangster Vic Dakin who (like most psychos seem to do) loves his old mum. Vic is obviously the notorious Kray Brothers rolled into one… though just Ronnie Kray will do. The film gets off to a very nasty start when a flash croupier returns to his flat having 'pulled' a young girl from the casino. He is promptly 'greeted' by Vic and a couple of his boys, Duncan and Webb (Tony Selby and Del Henney respectively). Vic hands the girl the bottle of milk the croupier brought and orders her “Go and make a cuppa tea”. Then Vic does the business on the croupier who has been opening his mouth a bit too much, that is to say he is a 'grass'. So Vic gives him what was known and still is as a 'Glasgow Kiss'. Afterwards they leave him hanging from his window, his blood splattering onto the pavement below. “Bleedin' pigeons” Vic remarks coldly before the camera pans up to the messy horror suspended above. And we all get a pretty good idea of what lies ahead.
Vic is soon put onto what looks like a good job in a local pub by yet another two-faced grass called Danny (Anthony Sagar), a big wages snatch - were talking about 80 grand (which is nothing nowadays). For this Vic will need a bigger team and so he enlists the likes of his old childhood friend and fellow gangster Frank Fletcher (T.P. McKenna) with whom he doesn't always see eye to eye but who is won over by Vic's 'natural' charm of persuasiveness. This also means - much to Vic's chagrin – that Frank's unfit for the job brother-in-law is getting on board too: the nervous second hand car dealer Edgar Lowis (Joss Ackland). Just like the Krays, Vic will need to have a politician in his pocket (Ronnie Kray had the pervert Lord Boothby) and Vic has the randy Gerald Draycott (Donald Sinden in a never less than amusing part). Draycott is provided with attractive young girls on a regular basis by Vic's rather unwilling lover Wolfe Lissner (a young Ian McShane). That said Lissner, who isn't really gay and has an attractive girlfriend called Venetia (Fiona Lewis), doesn't seem to mind ‘lending’ her out to the likes of dirty old men like Draycott.
But back to the Big Job: it involves Vic's gang hi-jacking a car transporting the wages for employees working at a large isolated plastics factory amid a web of new motorways. Vic was tipped-off by twitchy and disgruntled long-term employee Brown (James Cossins). The gang manages to pull the job off but it is far from an easy snatch. Their car is badly damaged and Fletcher gets his face smashed by a security man. They are forced to get another car which Vic simply acquires on the motorway by means of a simple ruse. Then they dump the stolen car which is later picked up by the police, it has Edgar's ‘dabs’ all over the place and Fletcher's bloody clothes everywhere. Edgar has been told by Vic to hide the money but shortly afterwards is arrested and is hospitalized under police protection as a result of an ulcer. He will not be in hospital for long as Vic wants his money! Despite witnesses coming forward, Vic has the influential Draycott on his side to bail him out. We have a couple of intrepid cops, Bob Matthews (Nigel Davenport) and Tom Binney (Colin Welland) hot on his trail. Vic, of course, has little respect for the Old Bill though in the end he can’t escape them and neither can Wolfe...
Director Tuchner really does keep this film going at a cracking pace. Barlow's novel, it has been said, was deeply cynical. This violent film further benefits from a stalwart cast and the versatile Joss Ackland deserved an award for his facial expression towards the films’ climax when Vic refers to him as a 'festering pig'. On to Burton, who was a great stage actor with a marvelous voice. He was also, as most of us know, Welsh. Perhaps he should have remained Welsh for his portrayal of Vic Dakin; try as he may, Burton simply cannot get a convincing London Cockney accent. A Cockney accent is one of hardest there is to emulate: invariably delivered at breakneck speed with virtually every other word mispronounced and running into the next word. A near impossibility for Burton who usually spoke from the diaphragm but here settles on gutterals instead. Just how much more impact it would have had if Burton could have put a four-letter word into his final line delivered in true Welsh tones.
VILLAIN has just been released newly restored in Blu-ray format for the first time.