THE SWEENEY Series One, Network Blu-ray
The original pilot Regan in 1974 marked the genesis of the gritty cop show The Sweeney, which appeared a year later. Originally transmitted as part of the then-highly successful Armchair Theatre, Regan was the brainchild of Ian Kennedy Martin (who had created Z-Cars), and acquainted audiences with a pre-Morse John Thaw and Dennis Waterman. It was shot on location in and around central London. In the gritty inaugural show, a cop is murdered by a gang of thugs, with Regan and Carter assigned to nail the killers, encountering non-cooperation from other members of the Flying Squad. The succeeding series, The Sweeney, was influential on many British television police series that followed with its unvarnished picture of British coppers lower down the social scale than the traditionally upper middle class officers previously seen in the cinema. The Blu-ray re-jig here is revelatory.
THE MARK Guy Green, director/Odeon
The theme of paedophilia was as incendiary when this film was made (in 1961) as it is today, and this now-celebrated, audacious piece retains much of its power. Jim Fuller (played by Stuart Whitman) has attacked a young girl, but has been released on the recommendation of his psychiatrist, Dr McNally (Rod Steiger, giving one of his best performances in his more restrained vein). But Fuller’s attempts to rebuild his life have disastrous consequences, with a murder in the mix. Once again, we can be grateful to the DVD industry for making available intriguing films that have been long hard to see.
THE THIRD SECRET Charles Crichton, director/Odeon
Boasting a splendid cast: Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Diane Cilento and — in a small part — Judi Dench (the prominence of her name on the box is rather cheeky), this overwrought but compelling drama suggests that dark psychological territory was not perhaps Charles Crichton’s forte (comedy was his speciality), but this is one of the more interesting films to follow in the wake of Hitchcock’s Psycho, not least for its splendid cast. The London Thames-side location shooting is a particular pleasure.
HELL IS A CITY Val Guest, director/Studio Canal
Val Guest’s Hell is a City (1960) is set in Manchester, though Shelley (source of the title) was referring to London – but let that pass. Guest’s impressive film testifies to its Hammer Films origins inasmuch as it sports a notably tougher demeanour (and less pussyfooting attitude to violence) than many similar crime films – presumably as studio head Michael Carreras considered that it might be profitable to utilise the studio’s unblushing approach to confrontational material in some other genre than horror. Stanley Baker’s flinty Inspector Martineau might be described as one of his signature roles, except that the actor’s consistency of achievement in the field renders the singling out of any one part as invidious, but there are details here which are particularly sharply etched, such as the portrait of the detective’s unhappy marriage (his wife is played by Maxine Audley); a character detail which is used specifically to define Martineau rather than simply as fleshing-out by rote as demanded by the genre. On the trail of brutal American criminal Don Starling (played by the actor John Crawford, routinely called in for such performances), the film’s real achievement (apart from its screwed-down narrative drive and pithy characterisation) is the location shooting in Manchester – a city now familiar as a film location, but then something new in the cinema. And it’s not just the suburban streets (prosperous or rundown) and imposing Victorian buildings that Val Guest evokes with particular skill, but even an unusual scene on the moors where illegal gambling (involving, of all things, shove ha’penny) is raided by the police. As in other regional films from this period (such as the Liverpool-set Violent Playground discussed earlier), the local accents utilised here will, to modern ears, sound inauthentic, but the film was made at the time when the sales of English movies to foreign territories were sometimes predicated on the comprehensibility (or otherwise) of the English spoken in the films. Famously, it was suggested that director Joan Littlewood’s uncompromising Cockney voices in Sparrows Can’t Sing needed to be subtitled for the US, and director Ken Loach’s refusal to modify the broad regional accents of the working class characters in his films is almost a mission statement in terms of his refusal to be shown in multiplexes as much as a marker set against his middle-class characters (character using received pronunciation in Loach films are not to be trusted). But while the accents are an element of Hell is a City which may ring false today (as with Violent Playground), the details of the relentless manhunt and Baker’s conflicted, unhappy copper have dated not a whit – and the film still offers a comprehensive, unglossy snapshot of social attitudes of the late 1950s and early 1960s.