Greetings all and sundry.
Favorite films either fall in your lap due to the serendipity of being in the right place at the right time. Or entail following a sporadic stream of bread crumbs and a bit of deductive investigation to finally latch on to.
This selection is definitely in the latter category. Briefly mentioned on an episode of the PBS series, Siskel & Ebert: At The Movies. Its short clip and positive comments by the hosts locked away its title for future reference. Aided by a bit of patience that resulted its acquisition in VHS. And later, DVD.
A film that introduces new actors and characters. While encompassing all the things the British excel at in a specific genre. Allow me to focus attention upon and introduce one of the best.
Classic British Gangster Film: The Long Good Friday (1980)
Which begins with an oblique, intriguing John LeCarre payoff of some sort. Covert, to be sure. Especially when the well dressed man with an attaché case full of pound notes sits in the rear seat of a limo on its way to a rustic town outside Belfast. Removes a fistful and slips them in a pocket for a long Easter weekend on the town. Blissfully unaware that those due to receive the valise do not appreciate being shorted.
Then a shift to the affluent estates outside the East End of London. Where an expensively attired older woman entering a Rolls Royce for Good Friday services, Intimating that life is good for long-established crime boss, Harold Shand (Loud mouthed, arrogant Bob Hoskins in his premiere role). Whose dreams of “going legitimate” through dockside Black Market, casinos, loan sharking and prostitution and subtle real estate deals.
With the aid of Financial Councilor, Harris (Bryan Marshall. Who dresses above his station. Drinks too much. Talks too much. And has unrequited desires for Victoria. That are just about to achieve fruition. With the aid of the American Mafia, of course.
Harold is a fixture of sorts. Keeping out of the public eye while plying his craft. Fat and contented within the workings of his own machine. Fairly well aware of his organization’s financial outlays versus profits. Though not intimately aware of the deeper, darker goings on that props up his empire. Proud of his latest gains in gaming establishments. While making sure all is resplendent for the arrival of stateside representatives and their future financial backing for Harold’s dream of leveling sections of dormant East End docks along the Thames for the upcoming Olympics.
Into this wondrous parfait comes the unexpected explosion of the elderly woman’s (Harold Shand’s mother) Rolls outside the ornate and stained glass church. Killing the chauffeur and destroying the vehicle. To add insult to injury. Harold is told of this a short time before the American contingent is due to land at Heathrow. To be subsequently wined and dined before sitting down with Harold to be brief in on his East End plans.
The Belfast bag man, Shand’s oldest friend and second in command, Colin (Paul Freeman. Before Raiders of The Lost Ark) returns to London for a swim. And be knifed by a smiling, silent Pierce Brosnan. Then dumped in the bogs outside of nowhere. Harold bring his stunning wife, Victoria (Helen Mirren. All quiet smarts and subtle sex appeal!) along to meet the Americans. Who are cautious as a change of plans occurs on the way to one of Paul’s newest enterprises. Where a hidden, waiting and unexploded bomb has been found.
Diverting to a new casino. Whose upper floor explodes as Harold, Victoria and the Americans approach in the caravan of expensive autos. The Americans are becoming less impressed by the moment. Giving Harold twenty-four hours to fix whatever problems that have suddenly cropped up. Or they’re flying back home!
Harold takes in to heart and starts looking for a “grass” (Snitch or informant) while calling in favors from bought cops. While having strategy sessions with what’s left of the top tiers of his remaining command. Looking inwardly. Trying to find anyone within the familial opposition who may have a gripe or grievance.
Sending his men out to fetch all the London organization’s family heads for some Q&A. Unique in that all the gang heads are brought to the massive freezer of one of Harold’s abattoirs. Bound hand and foot and suspended upside down from clean, unburied, stainless steel meat hooks.
Harold wants answers, but none are at hand. Harold wants to smash and destroy something as the Americans endure one final verbal volley from Harold aboard his rather opulent yacht. Jeff arrives, wondering what just happened and Harold rants about how the American Mafia is gutless.Though, Harold is also no closer to finding a lead as to who is blowing up his flagship operations.
Jeff tells Harold that Harris has had a decades long agreement with Ireland, and by extension, the IRA for hiring dock and construction workers. And paying the distant radicals each quarter. And that Colin was unaware when dipping the cash that started this whole nightmare.
Harold goes ballistic! The two fight and Harold cuts Jeff’s throat with a broken glass, Then calls a select few of his sources to a final payoff meeting for 60,000 pounds at an Anglia Demotion Derby. Where Harold and Harris will walk in, but only Harold and the money will walk out.
I’ll leave it right here for Spoilers’ sake.
Now. What Makes This Film Good?
A unique and different approach to the “Whodunnit?” of British Gangster films. Thankfully, written for adults. And does not insult your intelligence by creating cool looking plot holes.Also one that just short of demands attention to what is going on and being said. Because if you blink during several key scenes, you’ll lose a half hour of plot.
The screenplay and dialogue by Barrie Keefe sings with authenticity of that time. Standing alone in group and tete a tete discussions. Amongst richly laid out sets, lower class, soon to be slum row houses. dusty construction sites. Or the confines of an elevator as Jeff feels his oats, drops his guard and says a little too much to Victoria.
Direction by John Mackenzie is more than I had anticipated. With an eye and flair for the occasional explosion. while keeping the grislier scenes left to the imagination, than the eye. Cinematography by Phil Meheux is memorably clever. With the scene of Harold’s brethren crime bosses being trundled into the abattoir’s freezer and later shot from their upside down point of view. Also the scenes along the forgotten docks lets you feel the cold and grit. Very much like the original, Get Carter!.
Set direction and costuming by Vic Symonds and Tudor George are often lush and of its time. Though the soundtrack by George Walker sometimes grates in the final reels.
What Makes This Film Great?
Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren!
This is the film which introduced both to me ages ago. And they carry the film easily. With Ms. Mirren’s Victoria being just as savvy and a bit more sharp amongst men. Adding seductive class to an equal. In a role that is anything but a gangster’s “moll’. Doing more with a smile and knowing silence than a half page of dialogue.
Hoskins makes the most of his short stance and broad shoulders in bearing the weight of the film. Looking very much “like seven bowling ball stuffed in a tailored Saville Row suit.” As Roger Ebert originally opined. Hoskins’ Harold can be either a cuddly Teddy Bear. Or brutally ruthless, depending on his mood. His only flaw is that he is neat blindingly short-sighted. And does not look beyond his surroundings for who and what is hastening his plight. Which helps to move this contemporary update and twist on King Lear along with taut tension and rising suspense.
The Film’s Mystique:
The Long Good Friday is also a treasure trove of just starting out, but soon to be notable talent. With quiet cameos from Pierce Brosnan. Paul Freeman as Colin. P.H. Moriarty as Harold’s chauffeur and body-guard, Razors. Long before he’d be loan shark and fence,”Hatchet Harry” in Lock, Stock and Two Smokin’ Barrels. Also look for a teenage Dexter Fletcher shaking down Harold for money to watch his Jaguar along a Brixton street.
Handmade films has originally planned to dub Hoskins’ dialogue. Afraid the audience wouldn’t understand Harold’s brusque, rough Cockney. But Hoskins sued to have them stop, A wise, though expensive decision for a just starting out Hoskins.