There was clearly something in the air in the early seventies for British Films, and it wasn’t just budget film makers cashing in, but some of the biggest producers with mainstream stars, Michael Caine’s iconic gangster in Get Carter (1971), Nicol Williamson returning to Liverpool in The Reckoning (1970), and even Richard Burton in Villain (1971). There was clearly a public fascination with the men of violence, to almost quote Peter Walker’s Man of Violence (1969), and the arrest of the Krays together with changes in film censorship meant that sex and hoods and rock n’ roll were splattering screens a lot.
It was only a matter of time before Oliver Reed got caught up in things and he’d had some form as had Ian McShane who was with Burton in Villain, but Ollie was playing nihilistic hard men even as far back as his threatening turn as leader of a wayward, Weymouth biker gang in The Damned (1962). In truth there was always something about Ollie, a feeling of barely suppressed ferocity, menace and a capacity for violence. Now that’s all acting my dears but you wouldn’t really be that surprised if Mr Reed could handle himself.
He starts this film in impressive form, working out in his cramped cell and looking very much like a caged animal. His character Harry Lomart is doing time for armed robbery which resulted in him killing a guard, who, according to Harry, should have just stayed out of the way. He’s a career criminal used to the risks and the rewards of his profession as is his neighbour Birdy Williams (McShane) who was on the ill-fated job with him.
|Jill St John and Oliver Reed|
Today Harry gets a visit from his wife, Pat (Jill St. John who appears to be dubbed by an unknown English actor, which is a shame), who hasn’t seen him since the trial. Harry loves Pat and she is the thing that keeps him going through the long stretches. Something has however changed, and she is tired of waiting, especially now he’s in for a long stretch and wants out, especially as she’s seeing another fella and is pregnant… Harry smashes the reinforced glass between them and tries to throttle her and it takes three guards to pull him away.
He's sent to solitary for weeks bashing himself the walls and swearing revenge… by the time he gets back to his cell he’s ready to break out and so is Birdy. They hatch a plan with wheeler-dealer MacNeil (Freddie Jones, who is always such good value) and, with the aid of a bent screw played by Mike Pratt, they make a daring escape, just about managing to scale the walls in time to drop to their freedom a passing lorry set up by MacNeil.
|Ian and Oliver on the run|
Birdy wants them to lay low but Harry’s a man in a hurry and after obtaining a gun sets about stalking his wife even though the police, led by Inspector Milton (Edward Woodward), are keeping on her home at the top of a tower block in the Winstanley and York Road Estates, Battersea. Despite all their efforts, Harry catches Pat unawares and, despite the intervention of Milton, who he almost throws over the balcony, he has to flee as the sirens start and, in a surreal sequence, he evades two motorcycle cops dodging among the sheets and the washing.
From this point on it’s a two-way game of cat and mouse with the police after Harry and Harry after Pat, with Birdy’s help, Harry plans to get hold of their hidden ill-gotten gains and to use this to secure his escape but things begin to get complicated with former allies quickly turning into foes as everybody tries to “deal” with Harry…
Dusty verdict: Directed with purpose and intensity by Douglas
Hickcox Sitting Target is a very effective thriller which matches some of
those hyper-violent crime capers for moral force and a script with more than
one twist in its tail. For thos eof you who love period locations it's also a treat and feels very much a part of the London I almost knew... talking of which, Hickcox directed Les bicyclettes de Belsize (1967) which mapped out Hampstead and north west London just as well: he knows how to film location.
|Jill St John and Edward Woodward|
Of course, you can’t argue with the leading cast members and we even get legend, June Brown as the Lomart's Neighbour. In the end it’s Oliver Reed who carries the film’s most violent and tender moments, it’s quite something to see.
There’s also an excellent score from Stanley Myers which features synths and hard-edged jazz which perfectly captures the fast-moving action and the fierce emotions in a film which for all it’s violence, is as much about relationships and love as anything else. Myers’ score was released by Finders Keepers Records in 2007 and is, of course, now very collectable!
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