Sunday, 27 January 2013

Timecapsule... The Squeeze (1977)


When I bunked off school to go watch The Squeeze in the Liverpool Odeon, it seemed like there were very few decent films being made in the UK.

There was plenty on television but the Brits seemed to have given up on cinema apart from a steady stream of sex comedies, farces and the odd James Bond. Indeed, 1977 saw the release of such classics as Come Play With Me, Confessions from a Holiday Camp and erm, Wombling Free.

Stephen Boyd and David Hemmings
But the year also saw a handful of more serious dramas of which The Squeeze was one of the more entertaining. I still don’t know quite where this film came from: sandwiched between Get Carter and The Long Good Friday it’s not at their level but it has style and substance that the slew of noughties flat-pack crime-capers mostly lack.

Directed by Michael Apted, who later in his distinguished career went on to mix Bond with Narnia, it features Stacy Keach as Jim Naboth, an alcoholic former policeman who, life in a mess, gets sucked into the kidnapping of his ex-wife Jill (Carol White).

Carol White
Keach’s performance is particularly committed and actually uncomfortable to watch in parts. You keep on anticipating the moment when the drunk sobers up and resolves to recover but – perhaps realistically – the character is not that cut and dried (out).

At the film’s start he is drunk and incapable, falling head first down a long wooden tube escalator. He ends up in hospital where they try to dry him out and to use aversion therapy to help keep him off the sauce: the NHS eh?

He returns home to find his two boys being looked after by the social services… better sober up surely?

Edward Fox and Stacy Keach
His ex’s new husband Forman (Edward Fox) crashes into his house and reveals that Jill has been taken along with their daughter. Forman runs a security firm and the kidnappers, are intent on blackmailing him to help them in stealing from his own firm. Nowhere left to turn – he can’t go to the Police – Jim’s the only person left who he can trust. The longest of long shots.

David Hemmings – just over a decade on from Blow Up – plays Keith, the gang’s amoral and mercurial leader: easy-going familiarity hiding a ruthless commitment.  His backer is the more overtly aggressive Vic played with menace by Stephen Boyd.

Stacy Keach and Hilary Gasson
As in so many similar tales of lawmen on the edge, Jim is irresistible to women and pursues a relationship with the lovely nurse who helped him recover (Hilary Gasson). They are constantly being interrupted by Jim’s mate Teddy (a decent turn from comedian Freddie Starr) who wants to look after him after the former cop helped keep him on the straight and narrow...the odd bit of shoplifting excluded.

Hilary Gasson
Whilst these are all so easily clichéd characters, Apted keeps The Squeeze rough, ready and unpredictable. The kidnappers kill the Forman’s dog and for anxious seconds he thinks that it’s their daughter. It’s clear that there will be blood… but we don’t know who or how much until the very end.

There are tense moments as Jim and Teddy search an abandoned factory for the daughter whilst Jill is forced into an humiliating strip for the gang. White is typically brave here and this sequence is hard to watch – she’s a great improvisational actor here forced into a desperate act of self-preservation.

Whilst Jill is in hell, the suspense is ramped up by Jim’s seeming inability to straighten himself out. He bounces around from inspiration to frustration and invariably ends up with a drink in his hand.

Stephen Boyd
Caught breaking into Vic’s house he spins a quick line about working with the tax office before being made to drink a bottle of scotch and being kicked out with no clothes or dignity.  Keach doesn’t hold back even if his diction is occasionally challenging.

Keith blackmails Forman into killing Jim but he can’t go through with it. Jim works out a plan and tells Forman to spin the lie that he followed through. This allows Jim to go undercover… he’s got a plan or is he just going to get drunk yet again?

The Squeeze is fast-paced and realistically restrained – it doesn’t step over the mark of believability with its characters acting in flawed and believable ways throughout.

The Ford Zodiac 
It also offers some lovely, grimy views of unkempt late 70s London especially as Teddy’s gently rusted, grey Ford Zodiac prowls the streets. There’s a short section in the Notting Hill Carnival and some precious glimpses of posters advertising gigs for the Ohio Players and Uriah Heep. Then there’s the pubs… when did our public houses stop looking so shabbily welcoming?!

Freddie Starr and Stacy Keach in a proper pub
The hard-edged synthesised soundtrack from Genesis’ producer, David Henschel, impressed us all as schoolboys and impresses now… a precursor to Francis Monkman’s superb score for The Long Good Friday. It’s also supplemented by some period colour from the likes of the Doobie Brothers and – bizarrely – Jon Anderson, who’s Olias of Sunhillow plays on in the background of a massage parlour… not quite what the singer had in mind for his space-faring solo album.

Dusty verdict: well worth watching on DVD and if you want to remember just a bit about what the 1970s actually looked and felt like.

Commer van meets Morris Minor: 70s car porn
Some of these bands are still touring...
70s skyline

3 comments:

  1. It's amazing to see another fan of this underrated film.

    www.john-ninnis.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's from a time when there were few decent British films - a good story with agreat cast (even Freddie does well)and those lovely smoke-stained pubs!

      Delete