JACK THE RIPPER David Wickes, director/Network Blu-Ray David Wickes’ take on the most famous of British serial killers had British television viewers glued to their TVs on its first broadcast, but here is a chance to catch it again in a strikingly detailed Blu-ray transfer. Wickes’ theory as to the identity of Saucy Jack is contentious (despite its adduced sources), but one can ignore the program maker’s protestations that this is the definitive solution to the mystery of the Whitechapel murderer — after all, there are many contrasting theories, not least the Patricia Cornwell theory — in which she controversially names the painter Walter Sickert as The Ripper. Wickes’ multi-parter is stuffed to the gills with some of Britain’s best character actors, not least Michael Caine as the beleaguered detective Abbeline (although Lewis Collins is out of his depth with the talent he is surrounded with as Caine’s colleague) As was remarked at the time of the first showing, the gruesomeness of the killings is distinctly played down for a television audience, although there is a very brief shot of the bloody results of Jack’s only indoor killing; I suspect a few hands may be hovering over the pause button.
HELL DRIVERS, Cy Endfield, director/Network Blu-Ray The maverick is very often a criminal – or an ex-criminal. Looking at Hell Drivers (1957) today (particularly in this splendid Blu-Ray transfer) is a reminder that the House Unamerican Activities committee did British cinema a favour by consigning left-leaning directors such as Joseph Losey to professional exile in the UK in the 1950s. As I noted in British Crime Film, another casualty of the communist witch-hunt was Cy Endfield, who similarly produced excellent work when exiled to Britain – as with Hell Drivers, one of the most incisive Britcrime movies ever made – Endfield’s lean, taut movie about corruption among truck drivers, as aficionados will know, is clearly indebted to Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear, with its truck-drivers-in-peril scenario (here matched to criminality and cruelty) but so what? Endfield (whose symbiotic professional relationship with blue-collar actor Stanley Baker was to result in the memorable Zulu) rings the changes very satisfyingly – and there’s the matchless cast (one that would not have been affordable a decade or so later): Baker as the ex-con protagonist, Patrick McGoohan as a sadistic, cigarette-chewing heavy, a pre-007 Sean Connery, Peggy Cummins, Sidney James, Herbert Lom et al…While the in-your-face ethos of Hell Drivers may present most of its characters in bright primary colours, there is no gainsaying its ambition (or, for that matter, its achievement). Not least the palm-sweating action sequences with recklessly speeding lorries. One expects the central character – the quiet ex-con struggling to keep his head down – to be fashioned with Stanley Baker’s characteristic assurance, but there are also several sharply delineated subsidiary characters, such as the sensitive, pious Italian lorry driver played by Herbert Lom (like fellow character actor Warren Mitchell, Lom was able to provide whatever ethnicity was required by any project he was hired for – a skill that assured him of a long and varied acting career). To some degree, Lom is the kind of ‘sacrificial lamb’ character to be found in so many James Bond films, whose function, essentially, is to die and provide a visceral impetus for the hero (here, Baker’s truck driver) in the latter’s final inevitable confrontation with the heavies. Interestingly, in an era when religion was rarely questioned, Cy Endfield treats the Roman Catholic Lom character’s belief (as evinced by the shrine he prays to) as a naive response to the hard realities of the world he lives in – a response, what’s more, which doesn’t save his life.
Network are also releasing the Margi Clarke/Frank Clarke comedy-drama BLONDE FIST, set largely in the actress’s native Liverpool.
THE TEAM, Various directors, Arrow Is this another entry in the Scandinavian crime stakes? With its multinational accoutrements, it’s more a piece of Euro Noir rather than Nordic Noir, but is delivered with considerable efficiency, if a certain lack of individuality. When three prostitutes are murdered by being shot through the left eye in Antwerp, Berlin and Copenhagen, Europol sets up a Joint Investigations Team under the lead of Harald Bjørn (Lars Mikkelsen) from Denmark, Jackie Mueller (Jasmin Gerat) from Germany und Alicia Verbeek (Veerle Baetens) from Belgium. During their investigation ‘The Team’ unravels an unscrupulous criminal organization operating across Europe. ‘The Team’ an is international production for the Danish DR, the German ZDF, the Belgian vtm, the Austrian ORF and the Swiss SRF.