Friday, 7 June 2013

Just Criminal - The British Crime Film

Those of you familiar with Britain through popular culture would be forgiven for thinking we are a land of either foppish upper-class twits or Lahn-dan Cockney geezers on the run from the Old Bill after a blag that went tits-up Pete Tong. 'Ave a word... Well lets take a butchers at some of the classics... but you'll need a translator, so first lets learn to speeka-da-Engleesh like wot proppa cocker-knees do, innit?;

VOLCANO CAT'S HANDY COCKNEY PRIMER: Some (modern) Cockney rhyming phrases, with their derivatives.
Alans-Knickers (From Alan Whicker, a famous TV travel expert from the sixties and seventies)
You and Me: Tea
Battle: Pub (From Battlecruiser-Boozer)
Brass-Prostitute (Brass Flute)
Pig's – Beers (Pig's ears)
Drum-Place (Drum n'Bass)
Dog-Phone (Dog and Bone)
Grass, to – Inform or snitch.
Half-Inch – Pinch (Steal)
Minces-Eyes (Mince Pies)
Thrupenny Bits or Thrupennies-Tits
Scotches-Legs (Scotch Eggs)
Daisy Roots-Boots
Boat-Face (Boat Race)
North-Mouth (North & South)
Gavvers-The Police or Old Bill, Cozzers, The Filth etc
Mutt and Jeff – Deaf
Butchers, to have – Look (Butchers Hook)
Barnet-Hair (Barnet Fair)
Dancing Bears-(Stairs, more commonly Apples & Pears)
Trouble-wife (Trouble and Strife)
Half Inch – Steal (Pinch)
Nostrils or Pair of Nostrils – A double barrelled shotgun, usually sawn off to facilitate concealment and cause more damage.
Whistle – Suit (Whistle and Flute)

And, of course; the Cockney Alphabet:
A for Horses (Hay for Horses)
B for Mutton (Beef or Mutton)
C for Miles (See for Miles)
D for mation (Deformation)
E for brick (Heave a brick)
F for vescent (Effervescent)
G for police (Chief of Police)
H for consent (Age of consent)
I for engine (Ivor Engine – from the old childrens stories)
J for oranges (Jaffa Oranges)
K for restaurant (Cafe or restaurant – the Cafe pronounced KAFF)
L for leather (Seriously?)
M for sis (Emphasis)
N for lope (Envelope)
O for the rainbow (Over the rainbow)
P for relief (I'm saying nothing...)
Q for the loos (Again, obvious)
R for English (Arthur English – a famous Cockney actor)
S for Rantzen (Esther Rantzen – a seventies British TV host)
T for two
U for Me
V for Espana (Viva Espana)
W for a quid (Double You for a quid)
X for breakfast (Eggs for Breakfast)
Y for Mistress (Wife or Mistress)
Z for wind (Zephyr Wind)

Well, it's been emotional so far – so onto the first of our jaunts across the pavement;
The Italian Job (1969) (Warning: Here be spoilers!)
We're in at the top here, this stormer from the pen of Troy Kennedy Martin and Director Peter Collinson sets the bar and high, too. $4 Million in Chinese Gold wants stealing from Italy, it won't steal itself so Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) assembles a gang with the (belated) blessing of crime supremo Bridger (Noel Coward). Benny Hill plays Peach, a computer expert and with a crack team of getaway drivers, he causes chaos with Turin's computerised traffic system. The heist goes off with an amazing chase, the gold stashed in three Mini Coopers. They load the cars onto a moving coach, unload the gold and push the minis out of the back. The film ends on a cliffhanger, as the coach is left teetering on the edge of a chasm – the lads at one end balancing the weight of all that luvverly gold at the back...

Its a masterpiece, a timeless classic that improves with repeated watching. There is simply nothing bad to say about this one, the performances are all tip-top and the action is quality. Listen out for a superior soundtrack from none other than Quincy Jones. 

ABOVE: Despite their lack of support for the production, British Leyland were quick enough to cash in on its fame...

Caine againe... Get Carter (1971) The tone of this one, just two years later couldn't be more different if it tried. The Stark Seventies, gritty and colourless forms the backdrop for Mike Hodges' film, adapted from a novel by Ted Lewis Jack's Return Home. Jack Carter (Caine), a Newcastle-born gangster working in London goes back up North for his brother's funeral. What appeared to be a drink-driving accident proves to be the result of a conspiracy, so Carter looks into it, throwing his weight around to get to the bottom of things. A lead takes him to Amusement Machine businessman Brumby, who points the finger at rival Kinnear. After a lot of sub-plot the film progresses, Kinnear is framed for a murder, Brumby is thrown off a car-park and Jack gets his revenge on old acquaintance Eric (Ian Hendry), who works for Kinnear. As he walks from his body, he is in turn killed, shot by a hitman...

Well, it's a lot smoother when you watch it. This one is cold, grey and unpleasant, but it set a new standard for the genre and is now widely acknowledged as a classic (On first release it was relatively unappreciated)

Weird facts: Caine's stand-in?; would you believe a man called Jack Carter?
John Osborne, the famous Playwright plays Kinnear. Kinnear's house in the film was originally owned by an Amusement Machine Tycoon, who fled Britain after a murder...

The Long Good Friday (1979) Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins in his breakthrough role) is a London Gangster, with the mad idea of developing the run-down Docklands area as an Olympic Park... (He was out by a few miles). A bombing campaign sparks off fears of gangland war, but its actually the IRA out for revenge after some of theirs were accidentally killed by Shand's associate. Whoops. His would-be business associates from the American Mafia are spooked by all the carnage and, in local parlance – do one. He slags them off and winds up in the back of his motor looking at a shooter... sorry, he verbally abuses them, getting into his car to find himself looking into a gun-barrel. (The gun in the hands of a young actor called Pierce Brosnan, no less)

Look out for Helen Mirren as Victoria. This is a – and I dread the words – a cult classic, but it actually is and deserves a place in this elevated company I've assembled here. Hoskins is a believable villain, mired in the old ways and blind to the changing face of crime. Apparently, the hit that goes down at the end is meant to be the IRA – I thought it was the Mafia, but it doesn't really matter.

Did you know?; The boy who offers to mind Shand's car is a young Dexter Fletcher.

McVicar (1980) Roger Daltrey of The Who plays a real-life villain, John McVicar. In the '60s, Scotland Yard declared him their Public Enemy Number One and actually used the words 'Dead or Alive'. Tossers. Set in Durham prison, the story follows McVicar's own experiences, including the famous riot over conditions. Steven Berkoff plays Ronnie, allegedly based on Ron Kray, while another character, Cody is a depiction of the vile Ian Brady – one of Britain's most degraded creatures, by any standards. Sixties Pop star Adam Faith is McVicar's pal Walter Probyn.
After his escape, McVicar sets about rebuilding his life, but is betrayed and sent back.

It's authentic – Daltrey is brilliant as the angry crook learning life's lessons the hard way. The soundtrack was performed by the members of The Who, fitting in with the film a treat, especially the songs Free Me and Just a Dream Away. A minor classic, but a classic nonetheless. Watch it back to back with Tommy for a real treat.

MONA LISA (1986) Bob Hoskins again, as George, fresh out of prison and given a job by his boss Denny (Michael Caine) driving Simone (Cathy Tyson) a brass. George falls for her, but she isn't interested – preferring girls, namely Cathy (Kate Hardie). There's an abrupt climax in a Brighton hotel – (Ooer missus, what will the neighbours say etc) but it's been years since I saw this and, sadly, that's about all I can remember. Anyone like a mint?.

THE KRAYS (1990) Ronald and Reginald Kray were born in the East End of London, growing up after the war to become notorious as Gangland figures, 'running' a large part of London from their Bethnal Green stronghold, known as 'Fort Valance'. The film stars real-life brothers Gary and Martin Kemp, of Spandau Ballet fame. Supporting them is a strong cast; Billie Whitelaw plays their Mum, Violet Kray, Tom Bell is 'Jack The Hat' and Steven Berkoff is Cornell.
The story follows their rise from schooldays, through their unsuccessful stint in National Service to Gangland Empire, taking over an old dive of a club and generally moving into various protection rackets. Violence was the Kray's trademark, the film is full of it, graphic and unpleasant to watch. Reg Kray meets and marries his sweetheart, Frances (Kate Hardie again), but tragedy strikes as, increasingly isolated and fragile she takes her own life. Ron, meanwhile, is on the other bus, taking a shine to Steve (Gary Love), one of the Kray gang. The violence escalates, largely due to Ron's psychosis taking hold of his personality. First, Jack the Hat is dealt with, stabbed to death in a London flat; he had threatened the Krays, disrespecting the twins. Likewise Cornell, a rival gangster, famously shot through the head by Ron in the legendary Blind Beggar pub, on Mile End Road. Throughout the film, we see the twins almost telepathically in tune with each other, now this extends to Violet. Poor Violet, a woman used to hardship, hard, back-breaking housework. Her sons doted on her – this really is one case of the cliché being based on fact. She is shown heartbroken, the film ending at her funeral, the brothers chained to prison warders – now serving life.
 ABOVE: The real life Kray Twins, Ron (Left) and Reg - with their screen versions. Billie Whitelaw plays their Mother, Violet.

The sentences handed out to the Krays were exceptional, a mark of how dangerous they were. The establishment had to be seen to act, to 'take London back' from the hands of the Gangsters. Perhaps they deserved their long sentences, but the political overtones of them still leaves a bad taste and questions unanswered. Even today, the name Kray inspires fear and respect in certain parts of the East End.

Guy Ritchie's comedy crime thriller tips a wink to The Long Good Friday (With three of the cast, namely Dexter Fletcher, P.H. Moriarty and Alan Ford ), nods manfully at Pulp Fiction and even manages to reference For a Few Dollars More. Eddy (Nick Moran) talks his mates Soap (Dexter Fletcher), Tom (Jason Flemyng) and Bacon (Jason Statham) to putting up the cash for him to enter a card game run by Hatchet Harry (Moriarty). It's a fix and he loses the lot, ending up owing Harry £500,000. Harry's 'Minder', a brute of a man known as Barry the Baptist (He likes to drown people to get them to pay their debts) threatens Eddy and suggests his Dad (One time pop star Sting) (A Tosser with a capital TOSSER) hands over his bar. 
The friends learn the crooks next door, led by Dog (Frank Harper) are planning to rob a Weed dealer and, armed with some stolen antique shotguns, they rob Dog and co of the weed, attempting to sell it to psycho Rory Breaker (Vas Blackwood) – the gangster for whom it was being grown in the first place. There's a shootout between Breaker's men and Dog's gang, then Big Chris (Former footballer Vinnie Jones) a debt collector working for Harry comes across the shotguns and takes them to him, unawares they are the very ones he was after. There's a shooting at Harry's office, Tom takes the antique shotguns. There's an amusing cliffhanger ending involving the shotguns, with a reference to the ending of The Italian Job. All very involved, but brilliantly watchable and lots of fun.

Fact you should probably already know: Jason Statham (Of top geezer movie The Transporter fame) starts the film as an illegal street vendor, selling dodgy goods out of suitcases. That's how he made his living before Guy Ritchie discovered him. Art imitates life...

SNATCH (2000) Another one from Guy Ritchie, the follow-up to Lock, Stock.
Benicio Del Toro is Franky Four Fingers – and he has stolen a huge diamond, delivering it to diamond expert and dealer Doug the Head (The late, great actor/comedian Mike Reid). Bare-Knuckle fighter Brad Pitt – as Gypsy Mickey O'Neil ends up on the fight card at gangster Brick Top's (Top is played by Alan Ford) unlicensed match. Jason Statham is Turkish, the promoter. Mickey is supposed to throw the fight; he wins, Franky gets a gun from Boris the Blade, an ex KGB type (Rade Šerbedžija) but as Cousin Avi (Dennis Farina) arrives to get his diamond, Framky is kidnapped in a botched robbery... Well that's how it starts...
It's a real twister – Snatch makes Lock, Stock seem straightforward, but its in the same vein – a riot of a film and great fun throughout. Pitt's 'pikey' (A derogatory term for Gypsy) is indecipherably Oirish and a marvellous performance, but he's matched by the cast around him, who all do their bit. Seen as a bit of a cash in, more of the same, Snatch got it's fair share of stick from the usual whingers. If you liked Lock, Stock, this is for you. Simple as.

RocknRolla (2008) Now, after two Guy Ritchies we'd (actually, it's just me – as in I'd) be pushing our (my) luck with a third. So let's stop faffing before they rumble us...
Lenny Cole is a London Kingpin – if he looks like Full Monty actor Tom Wilkinson, it's because he is Tom Wilkinson. Russian oligarch Uri (Karel Roden) wants a dodgy land deal to take place, Lenny arranges this for 7 million Euros. No idea what an Oligarch is, by the way – it sounded right. Uri lends his lucky painting to Lenny as a sweetener, but Lenny's step-son, rock singer Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell) half-inches it. Lenny sets his muscle, Archy (Played to a T by Mark Strong) after Johnny, while a gang known as the Wild Bunch, led by One-Two (Gerard Butler) steals Uri's cash. Uri suspects Lenny, breaking his leg on a golf course as a warning, finding his painting by chance at the house of his would-be love, Stella (Thandie Newton). Enraged, he orders her killed. Johnny and the Wild Bunch are taken at gunpoint to Lenny's warehouse by Archy. Johnny, who hates his stepdad provokes him, getting shot in the stomach just as he is about to say too much...

Throughout the film, it is revealed that a shadowy character known only as 'Sidney Shaw' has grassed on just about everyone present in the warehouse, to secure his own freedom from jail and consolidate his power base – as they realise the truth, Archy has Shaw – yes, it's Lenny Cole – drowned as revenge. Johnny escapes from the hitmen and Archy gives him Uri's painting as a gift, hinting that Uri is no more. It all ends with Johnny taking over the family firm...

Well, you need to see it – it's atmospheric and Toby Kebbell is a real star. Wilkinson is perfect as a nasty old villain and the supporting cast are all solid. Look out for Geoff Bell as Fred and Bond girl Gemma Arterton shows up too...

...Which only leaves this gem.

Wild Bill (2011) Charlie-Creed Miles plays 'Wild' Bill Hayward, out on parole after eight years inside. He returns to East London to find it being transformed for the upcoming Olympics, bumping into old friends – the local drug dealers - and being returned paralytic to his old flat, with a package of cocaine. When he wakes, he finds his wife has gone to Spain some months previously, leaving their two young sons to fend for themselves. In a fantastic, angry performance the sixteen year old Dean is portrayed by Will Poulter, younger brother Jimmy by Sammy Williams. Bill wants out, planning to go to Scotland – but Dean blackmails him, threatening to grass him for dealing. Staying is harder than it seems, though, as local drugs pusher Terry (Leo Gregory, a favourite of mine since I saw him in Green Street) realises his initial welcome to Wild Bill may have been a mistake. Terry has his hooks into little Jimmy, but Bill is determined he won't follow his example and, inevitably there's a brutal confrontation...

Its a top-drawer look at the hopelessness of living on an East London estate, but the film rises above the grim urban deprivation to show redemption is possible, even for a loser like Bill Hayward. He learns the biggest lesson of all; how to be a Dad. Dexter Fletcher's Directorial debut is a beauty; realistic, no-punches pulled and certainly able to stand alongside the greats that precede it here.
ABOVE: Dexter Fletcher, Actor and now Director.

Random factoid; The school featured in Wild Bill was known as Newham Comprehensive when my wonderful Wife went there as a pupil...

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