While most of the cult British gangster flicks have been remade, reissued and generally run into the ground, one prime example has been left gathering dust in the archives – Villain. Strange, because, despite a couple of obvious flaws, this is up there with any of them.
Based on James Barlow’s classic Burden Of Proof novel, Villain stars Richard Burton as London crime boss Vic Dakin, with obvious parallels to certain other real life hard men of the day – vicious by day, home to the mother he idolises at night and in a violent, same-sex relationship with Wolfie Lissner – an early role for the hip-looking Ian McShane as a small-time pimp and drug pusher (and driver of a rather cool Mk I Capri).
If you’re in any doubt about Vic’s methods, the opening scene with Benny the croupier and a cut throat razor should put you in the picture. And that’s Dakin’s game – violence, intimidation, protection rackets and casinos, with large chunks of the capital under his ‘protection’ – and the police seem powerless to stop him.
But things are about to change. Dakin is tipped off about a possible armed robbery, tempted by the wages haul on offer. It’s off his patch, so he needs to enlist the help of rival crime bosses Frank Fletcher (TP McKenna) and Edgar Lewis (Joss Ackland). That doesn’t go to plan – and even worse – the Regional Crime Squad (headed superbly by Nigel Davenport and Colin Welland) finally have Dakin in their sights.
It really is a great film and if you’re fan of 60s/70s Brit flicks – or you’ve just exhausted the one-liners of Get Carter – you really need to own this. It’s got everything, a cracking storyline with real suspense (adapted by TV stalwarts Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais), hard-hitting violence, a top-notch car chase, some great performances (especially from the supporting cast), a funky soundtrack and some killer clobber on the gangsters’ backs – especially Vic Dakin’s.
So if it’s so good, why has it been overlooked? Well, there are those flaws – including Burton’s accent (a minor moan on an otherwise dominant performance) and the rather abrupt ending – you do feel the movie had more legs, especially after reading the book. And in comparison to (say) Get Carter and the Italian Job, it’s a very downbeat and dark movie – no light-hearted one-liners here, although there’s still plenty of lines to savour.
In short, a film you really should own. The DVD transfer is excellent, with the picture quality incredibly vibrant in comparison to the old video release (or that copy you taped off the TV all those years ago). Sadly no extras on the disc, but you can’t have everything.
Extras on the DVD: