Film Review – THE BLACK WINDMILL (1974)

THE BLACK WINDMILL (1974, UK/France, 106m, 12) ***
Action, Crime, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), Cinema International Corporation (CIC) (UK); pr co. Universal Pictures; d. Don Siegel; w. Leigh Vance (based on the novel “Seven Days to a Killing” by Clive Egleton); pr. Don Siegel; ph. Ousama Rawi (Technicolor | 2.35:1); m. Roy Budd; ed. Antony Gibbs; ad. Peter Murton.
cast: Michael Caine (Maj. John Tarrant), Donald Pleasence (Cedric Harper), Delphine Seyrig (Ceil Burrows), Clive Revill (Alf Chestermann), John Vernon (McKee), Joss Ackland (Chief Supt. Wray), Janet Suzman (Alex Tarrant), Catherine Schell (Lady Melissa Julyan), Joseph O’Conor (Sir Edward Julyan), Denis Quilley (Bateson), Derek Newark (Monitoring Policeman), Edward Hardwicke (Mike McCarthy), Maureen Pryor (Jane Harper), Joyce Carey (Miss Monley), Preston Lockwood (Ilkeston), Molly Urquhart (Margaret), David Daker (MI5 Man), Hermione Baddeley (Hetty), Patrick Barr (Gen. St. John).
A perfectly competent spy thriller vehicle for Caine who plays a British agent whose son is kidnapped and held for a ransom of diamonds. Caine discovers he can’t even count on the people he thought were on his side to help him, so he decides to track down the kidnappers himself. Siegel directs with his usual economy, but the story never really pulls the viewer in. The shadowy nature of Caine’s world means there is little investment in character and motivation. This means the kidnap element of the plot lacks the tension that it deserves. That said the cast is solid and Pleasence has fun inventing fussy mannerisms as Caine’s immediate superior. Vernon is as reliable as ever in the chief villain role as are some familiar British actors and the finale, in the titular windmill, is excitingly staged. A professional job, but one lacking an emotional heart.

Film Review – THE STONE KILLER (1973)

THE STONE KILLER (1973, USA, 95m, 15) ***
Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller
dist. Columbia Pictures (USA), Columbia-Warner Distributors (UK); pr co. Dino de Laurentiis Cinematografica / Produzioni Cinematografiche Inter. Ma. Co. / Rizzoli Film; d. Michael Winner; w. Gerald Wilson (based on the novel “A Complete State of Death” by John Gardner); pr. Michael Winner; ph. Richard Moore (Technicolor | 1.85:1); m. Roy Budd; ed. Frederick Wilson; ad. Ward Preston.
cast: Charles Bronson (Lou Torrey), Martin Balsam (Al Vescari), Jack Colvin (Jumper), Paul Koslo (Langley), Norman Fell (Les Daniels), David Sheiner (Guido Lorenz), Stuart Margolin (Lawrence), Ralph Waite (Mathews), Alfred Ryder (Tony Champion), Walter Burke (J D), Kelley Miles (Geraldine Wexton), Eddie Firestone (Armitage), Charles Tyner (Police Psychiatrist), Byron Morrow (Station Commander), Lisabeth Hush (Dr. Helen Torrey), Frank Campanella (Calabriese), Gene Woodbury (Paul Long), Robert Emhardt (Fussy Man), David Moody (Gus Lipper), John Ritter (Hart).
A decent gritty action thriller vehicle for Bronson as a police detective who learns a 1930s mobster (Martin Balsam) has formed a killer elite to settle an old gangland score. Winner handles the tough and violent action scenes well, but he is less adept with the actors, who give variable performances. The location shifts from New York to Los Angeles are jarringly edited at times and the screenplay lacks clarity of focus. Roy Budd’s energetic score helps to keep things moving and the climactic shootout is well-staged. John Gardner’s 1969 source novel was set in the UK.

Film Review – MAN AT THE TOP (1973)

MAN AT THE TOP (1973, UK) ***
Drama
dist. Anglo-EMI Film Distributors (UK), Ambassador Film Distributors (USA); pr co. Anglo-EMI / Dufton / Hammer Film Productions; d. Mike Vardy; w. Hugh Whitemore, John Junkin (based on characters created by John Braine); exec pr. Nat Cohen; pr. Peter Charlesworth, Jock Jacobsen; ph. Brian Probyn (Eastmancolor. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1 (original ratio), 1.75:1 (intended ratio)); m. Roy Budd; m sup. Philip Martell; ed. Chris Barnes; ad. Don Picton; cos. Laura Nightingale; m/up. George Blackler, Elaine Bowerbank; sd. Claude Hitchcock, Terry Poulton (Mono); rel. May 1973 (UK), May 1975 (USA); cert: 15; r/t. 92m.

cast: Kenneth Haigh (Joe Lampton), Nanette Newman (Alex), Harry Andrews (Lord Ackerman), John Quentin (Digby), Mary Maude (Robin Ackerman), Danny Sewell (Weston), Paul Williamson (Tarrant), Margaret Heald (Eileen), Angela Bruce (Joyce), Charlie Williams (George Harvey), Anne Cunningham (Mrs. Harvey), William Lucas (Marshal), John Collin (Wisbech), Norma West (Sarah Tarrant), Clive Swift (Massey), Jaron Yaltan (Harish Taranath), Tim Brinton (Newsreader), John Conteh (Black Boxer), Nell Brennan (Waitress), Patrick McCann (White Boxer).

Northerner Joe Lampton (Haigh) becomes involved with Lord Ackerman (Andrews), the powerful chairman of a pharmaceutical concern, his beautiful wife Alex (Newman), and daughter Robin (Maude). But trouble starts when Joe is made Managing Director of one of Ackerman’s companies and makes a shocking discovery: his predecessor committed suicide. Mixing business conspiracy and social comment this third cinematic take on John Braine’s ambitious working class career climber has its moments without ever really catching fire. Haigh’s performance lacks a certain subtlety, accurately capturing the nature of his character but making him a little too one-dimensional in the process. The moral that plays out is “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” and there is a certain hypocrisy in Lampton’s self-serving actions. The film is shot with an element of cold realism heightened by Budd’s spare score. Whilst Haigh is on screen the story is always interesting if its path leads to an unsatisfying, if inevitable, conclusion. Based on the TV series (1970-2), which in turn followed ROOM AT THE TOP (1959) and LIFE AT THE TOP (1965).