This gritty gangland flick gives us something of a “what if” when it comes to seeing Oliver Reed as a modern gangster in seventies London. It’s a perfect bit of casting. He’s vengeful and dangerous to those around him as he seeks his justice. The “what if” comes from wishing the film was more memorable. Can you imagine him taking on a character like Harold Shand in The Long Good Friday? Looking back it’s too bad Reed never received a call to play a British gangster in the quality of the Bob Hoskins classic.
With gangland thug Reed doing a fifteen year stretch for murder he’s told by wife Jill St. John that she won’t be back. She’s divorcing him and has a new man in her life. Topping that she’s also pregnant. Ollie promptly puts his hand through the glass pane separating them as his temper overtakes him. He swears he’ll get out and kill both her and her lover. So sets the stage for this violent Douglas Hickox directed film released through MGM studios.
Reed teams up with fellow inmates and syndicate men, Ian McShane and Freddie Jones, to stage a daring escape from their prison home. It’s well executed and has a couple harrowing clips as they encounter dogs and swinging ropes.
Once over the wall Reed and McShane go their own way allowing the screenwriter to omit Jones from the balance of the film. First up is Reed getting his hands on a high powered gun to take out the former love of his life.
Assigned to the case of putting our thugs back behind bars is Edward Woodward. He’s sticking to Jill St. John as he awaits the inevitable force of Reed. On the first encounter things don’t quite go Ollie’s way and he’s off with McShane to get monies owed to him from fellow Musketeer Frank Finlay. This gives the producers the opportunity to squeeze in attractive Jill Townsend as Frank’s mistress. It also allows McShane’s slimy mobster an opportunity to take what he wants.
Reed’s run of bad luck continues. When the Finlay episode concludes with some choppy story telling both he and McShane are off to do one last deed before they flee the country. Reed has to kill St. John and her lover. Let’s just say Ollie’s character is mostly brawn with little brains. You’ll have to tune in to figure it all out.
Director Hickox had a short run of films in the seventies that are worth noting. Brannigan, Zulu Dawn and the must see Vincent Price black comedy Theater of Blood. Serving as editor was John Glen who would go from the editing room on to becoming a director of Bond films including Octopussy and The Living Daylights.
Aside from Reed there is a solid cast here with Bond girl Jill St. John and Ian McShane who still commands respect on screen to this day. Both Finlay and Freddie Jones are character actors that add a little extra something to the films we’ve encountered them in over the years so it’s a plus having them here. Brief as it might be. Then there is Woodward who would soon have a date with The Wickerman.
While McShane smiles his way through Sitting Target it’s Reed whose presence commands your attention whenever he’s on screen. From the opening shots in his cell to the very last at the fadeout. It should also be noted that the infamous scars on Reed’s face suit the gangland character he’s bringing to us in this forceful portrait of a vengeful mobster.
While no Get Carter, it’s still Reed in an intimidating role that he was so good at. Sheer brute force. This one is out there through the Warner Archive line and therefore has found a spot on my shelf.
For some reason I don’t believe I’ve ever seen this, and it sounds at least interesting. I do get the impression though that the plotting is a little unfocussed, or maybe tries to pack a bit too much in. Still, what a cast!
A really good gangland cast. Gets a bit lost with its fast pacing and jumping but Ian and Oliver deliver.
Just watched this, great pairing with reed and mcshane, I think Ian was excellent and that must take some doing as Reed has such a huge presence on screen. Strangely I’ve never seen this shown on terrestial tv in the uk, yet based in london and with woodward as well etc…you would presume several showings over the years. Maybe the prison breakout section was seen as taboo??
Funny how this one was regularly on late night TV here in Canada back in the late 70′ early 80’s. Good flick and it’s an eye opener for those who only know McShane from his work over the last 10 to 15 years. Reed is as always, a force to reckon with.