Wednesday, 15 February 2017

The Wild West…. Freelance (1971)

Another one in my series of Luan Peters films and one in which she was largely cut from, of which more later…

This was a tough crime caper movie released after Get Carter (just) and Man of Violence and helping to pave the way for seventies Brit-noir and, even on the telly, The Sweeney to come. You can even see elements of Sexy Beast especially as both films feature the hard-bitten and almost ageless Ian McShane.

For all the floral psychedelia of the late sixties, Britain was a hard place and by the seventies tough times were upon us and the tough got going in films like this one.  Freelance treads the fine line between hero and anti-hero as the three-day week beckoned, black outs began and we all got a lot more time off school than we expected. Happy days at Junior School but more alarming in the adult world as the post-war dream faded to grey…

Delectable Hunnicutt
Ian McShane’s Mitch is a character who reckons he’s got it all sorted out… Mitch keep house with a rather elegant model girlfriend, Chris (the delectable Gayle Hunnicutt) but aside from their modern-art and conspicuous elegant consumption, he has fingers in many pies. The film starts with his supplying some sweaty-staring middle-aged aficionados, what they sued to call a stg film. It does the trick and there’s a little more to keep him in the lifestyle he is accustomed.

But he has bigger fish to fry as he sets up a wealthy foreign businessman to deliver him funds on the pretence of a defence contract…

The genuinely great Alan Lake
Before all this there’s an unfortunate events in which local enforcer, Dean (Alan Lake) administering a punishment beating to one of his bosses creditors. Instinctively, seeing only a young man beating up an older one, Mitch wants to intervene and chase Dean until he realises that a) he knows him and b) he’s not hard enough to do anything about it.

He shrugs off this moral quandary after meeting an attractive blonde named Rosemary (the lovely Luan Peters), staggering under the weight of too many coffees for co-workers. He follows her teetering off – one for later? – even in the middle of his troubles, Mitch always has time for distraction.

Ian and Luan talk over coffee
But things are about to get serious when Dean reports back to his boss, Peter Gilmore, who insists he “deal” with the man who recognised him in the attack. Dean is not inhumane and argues that Mitch will keep quiet but the boss is less certain and maybe he needs to test his hit man’s loyalty.

Meanwhile for Mitch, life looks swell and he needs to celebrate with his best mate and partner in crime, Gary (Keith Barron). Cut to a cut scene which features them frolicking with Rosemary… it’s not quite a threesome as there is turn taking but still understandably risqué. The seventies eh?

Keth and Ian in a proper ale house
And all this whilst he’s got Chris as home… but Mitch is not without morality and he’s constantly fretting over whether to report what he’d seen to the police. Things soon become moot as he spots Dean about to intercept a meeting with one of his marks: he’s been trailed and that can only be bad news.

Cue, Mitch on the run trying to avoid his would be assassin through rooftop chases and along the roads of Westbourne Grove. He takes up an offer from Chris’ wealthy pal Jeff (Peter Birrel) to take an actual job that comes with a new flat but he soon realises that he can’t outrun his fate and hatches a plan that might just set him free…

Peter Gilmore and Alan Lake: the Boss ain't 'appy!
What will success bring for Mitch, as he proves increasingly resourceful and adaptive, is he beginning to turn into the kind of man he is trying to escape from?

Dusty verdict: Freelance does not have the style or story-strength of Get Carter but it is an enjoyable and hard-hitting film all the same.

Francis Megahy’s direction is pacey and features some fascinating location shooting around Notting Hill and Westbourne Grove – so many of the buildings remain in an area that is now decades beyond gentrification.

Keith Barron and Gayle Hunnicutt are little more than foils for the excellent McShane but both do well with what they have. Alan Lake is also a much-underrated actor and is menacing whilst also being sympathetic. But it’s McShane’s show and merely the second decade of his amazing career.

Freelance is hard to find and not available on DVD as far as I can see… better hold onto my VHS then!


  1. Fairly shitty copies of VHS masquerading as DVDR of this and others of the period, most notably Deviation. It doesn't take a lot of skill to make decent transfers. Perhaps if you've got the time...

  2. I suspect the brunette "girl on the bus" as McShane reads paper is Nicole Yerner