Sunday, 13 September 2015

London after dark... Moon aka Man of Violence (1969)

There is no dark side of the Moon really… matter of fact, it’s all dark.” Gerry O'Driscoll, doorman, Abby Road studios

From the BFI’s blurb on this the sixth of their dual format Flipside series, I was expecting a gritty take on London’s far-from-swinging criminal underbelly but, as it transpires this is more of a broader swipe at the likes of James Bond and even Matt Helm.

Michael Latimer with loaded ketchup bottle
Director Pete Walker is rightly lauded as a skilled film-maker around the fringes of mainstream and at a time when he points out so very few British films were being made. Here on a low budget he deliberately set out to make a film that would appeal to American teenagers at the drive in: the kind of fast-living and faster-moving loner who can take on organised crime and win the girl… yet there are some rather pointed differences.

Aston Martin DB6
The man of violence himself, Moon (Michael Latimer) does indeed possess a dark side: he’s mainly out for himself and is an educated gun for hire who, naturally drives an Aston Martin DB6. He doesn’t just operate on the edges of the law, he’s over the line: a criminal of sophistication not unlike the many underworld heroes of contemporary London. He might help the girl at the story’s heart, Angel (Luan Peters) but he’s only after the gold and her for himself.

Michael Latimer and Luan Peters
Rather bravely, Moon is also after the odd boy or two, at least if it helps him get where he needs to go: homosexuality was barely legalised in the UK and the sight of our hero leaving another man’s bed must have been quite shocking – he might have been after information but his choice of persuasion was simply beyond the terms of reference for leading men in this genre then as now.  

Where the boys are...
Walker’s subversion doesn’t stop there but I can’t reveal anymore and you’ll have to watch until the very end to find out the full extent. So many recent Brit thug-fests have tried to steal Walker’s clothes but I don’t know of many being as innovative and on such a limited budget!      

Bryant talks tactics with Nixon
He also manages some digs at the unfettered power of legitimised businessmen, with Sam Bryant (Derek Francis) as a former crook-turned property developer who is on his way to money and power helped by the establishment. There are prescient echoes of the Paulson affair – as there are in 1971’s Get Carter – in which a northern businessman makes a fortune out of providing sub-standard housing. When will we ever learn?

But Walker, doesn’t forget to give his audience plenty of swinging locations – he did know them all after all – and the interiors hint at legendary venues such as Scotch of St James’, The Speakeasy and others. Moon only drinks water though: he prefers a clear head…

Keeping a clear head
Even with a clear head though, the plot is quite hard to follow but perhaps that’s Walker’s point: James Bond was never restrained by believability and all kinds of motives drive the cat-stroking villains of his pieces.

Here there’s a turf war in seedy London clubs and the film kicks off with one such venue being smashed courtesy of a malevolent front-over-combed villain called Hunt (Kenneth Hendel). The club belongs to a well-to-do Manchester businessman, Bryant, who has been buying up a number of similar venues from under the nose of local kingpin Grayson (Maurice Kaufmann) for whom Hunt works…

"They only killed their own..." mostly
Neither man is please and, as it happens, both call on Moon for aid. Moon has opened the film in a dalliance with a girl called Goose (Erika Raffael) whom he squirts with tomato ketchup from a toy gun (a little obvious…). But who’s side is he on?

Bryant calls in for assistance from his suave helper Nixon (Derek Aylward) who arranges to involve Moon on their side. Moon collects his down-payment in a church and only just survives an attack from a gunman who he drops to the ground amidst the gravestones… Someone is playing both sides and it’s not just Moon.

Three sides of alliance
Moon goes to meet Nixon at the Ice Pack nightclub where he encounters Angel (Luan Peters ) who turns out to be far more than she seems… and who's side is she on? Moon notices that she calls Grayson from the club...tangled webs in the cobwebbed dark corners of clubland.

Moon goes to tap up a civil servant in a gay bar - cravats and flowery penny rounds abound - and picks up his young boyfriend for further information. He goes in search of the answers only to be soundly beaten by Grayson's thugs whilst searching a flat as he lies spinning on the floor Angel helps him out - she's got there first.

Angel of mercy
Back at Moon's pad the couple share notes as he patches himself up and, as is the convention in these matters, Angel gets undressed and the one thing leads to the other thing... Angel's tale broadens the story to involve North African politics... there's a huge amount of gold involved that can make or break a new regime and Angel, of course, is on the side of the erm, angels (probably).

Naturally the UK-based gangsters are merely interested in the wealth rather than the politics and this largely applies to Moon too although he is forming a bond with Angel...

Bryant  has a plan to smuggle the Gold in the tour van of a frizzy-haired pop band called Flossie and the Crunch... why of course. But Moon and Angel drive off as fans mob the psych-popsters!

Making the most of Tunisia
The action moves  to Tunisia where Walker packs in a huge amount of scenes in just three days - his equipment having been held in customs. There's a comedy chase as Moon escapes from local militia... and some excellent bikini deployment from Luan Peters at a Hotel swimming pool as the strange man who has been observing events from afar makes himself known...

The mystery man makes himself known... or does he?
Things can only get more complicated and they do...

Dusty verdict: Man of Violence is a demi-classic that makes its point on a micro-budget with wit and style. It's not quite Get Carter but it does have a cynical voice all of its own.

Michael Latimer makes for a good anti-hero and whilst Walker bemoans that he couldn't offer him better material,I think he does very well with what he has - a likeable rogue with a believable interest in protecting the few good people the situation involves.

Luan Peters also performs very well and her character is in many ways the film's true hero: Walker's ultimate subversion putting the pretty woman as the moral centre... she doesn't need to be saved by Moon but he needs her. I recognised her vaguely and then remembered that she played the Australian in the Fawlty Towers episode The Psychiatrist - Basil fails to hide his fascination and has an unfortunate incident confusing her with a light switch...

Luan: not to be confused with a light switch...
Man of Violence is available on a BFI DVD/Blu-Ray either direct or from Amazon.

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