Thursday, 15 August 2013

The Squeeze (1977) - Michael Apted

The Squeeze is one of those diamonds of 70s British cinema just begging to be unearthed and rediscovered. On paper the plot sounds like something you’ve seen a hundred times before, nothing special in fact. Nasty types kidnap a wife (Carol White) and daughter, but the husband (Edward Fox) decides rather than coughing up the ransom he’d rather team up with his wife’s previous husband (Stacey Keach) and try and sort it out that way. Problem is that despite being ex-police, Keach is an alky and really not up to the task of sorting anything out other than ordering a drop of Sherry to steady his nerves.

As I say on paper it’s nothing special, but director Michael Apted brings a hell of a lot to it. Apted was already an old hand at shooting from the hip having worked in TV for years, most famously on the Up series. So The Squeeze massively benefits from his style of shooting on location rather than being set bound, plus the cameras are mainly hand-held rather than dolly mounted, all of which injects a fair amount of energy into what ends up on the screen. Then there’s the fact that The Squeeze is British, not just British but post Sweeney British. It’s a sweaty nylon shirt stuck to the faux leather seat of a British Leyland car, bags of rubbish in the streets and boarded up houses type of film. More than that though The Squeeze is aces because of it’s cast. Keach is actually a real find, I’m not sure if he was overdubbed (it doesn’t look that way) or if he could actually manage a decent accent - either way he sounds genuine enough, and is convincing as a soak. So much so that you can almost smell his stale breath at points. Edward Fox is his usual fantastic self, looking at all times as if he’s trodden in dog shit, his face fixed in a perma-scowl. Both he and Keach’s introductions are superb, Fox bursts into Keach’s home demanding to see his wife and for once has a real air of menace about him. Whereas Keach is introduced stumbling along through a London Underground station and eventually takes a nasty tumble down an escalator.

Just as good are the supporting cast, Carol White who had shone as the lead in two key Ken Loach films (Cathy Come Home & Poor Cow) is so very, very good. It’s a tough role, involving plenty of crying and nudity but she does a bang up job. Then there’s David Hemmings playing totally against character as one of the main villains. What at first feels like a huge piece of miscasting quickly reveals itself to be a bit of a masterstroke. Same goes for Freddie Starr as Teddy, in his only attempt at serious acting he plays a light fingered Scouser who helps Keach out throughout the film. It shouldn’t work, but Starr is actually pretty good and manages to reign in any urge to do his usual shtick. Add to that Alan Ford in his first screen role and you're onto a winner. I should also give a quick shout out to the Johnny Harris score which is a blinder, it's never been made available but two of the tracks appear on his genuis album - Movements. It's up there with the best of Roy Budd's scores. That good.

What little plot there is revolves around Keach and Fox squabbling, and Starr trying to keep Keach off the sauce long enough to rescue his ex. It’s grim, and not very action packed by todays standards but it is very dramatic and strangely earthy. Which is something that British crime films seem to lack nowadays, in the rush to look glossy and try and compete with the fluff that fills our multiplexes from across the pond we’ve forgotten about the things that made our crime films unique. It’s there in Get Carter, both of the Sweeney movies, Villain, The Long Good Friday, Robbery and a whole stack of other films. It’s that ordinariness mixed in with the criminal aspect, scenes used to take place inside a boozer rather than a club. Maybe I’m just being overly nostalgic for the past but it’s definitely something I miss in British crime films, which when done well can hold their own against anything Hollywoodland cares to throw at us.

This is a bit of a pain to get hold of, having not had a DVD release despite being owned by Warners. Hopefully someday this will be rectified, but until then just do what you have to do to see this. You won't regret it.

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