Joe’s Blog

Archive for September, 2012

Sweeney! (1977)

September 13, 2012 5:39 am


Sweeney poster

“Shut it!”

 Yay, it’s remake time again! And now that Hollywood has exhausted itself of horror remakes (for the time being), us Brits have decided the best way to boost our own film economy is to trawl the nostalgia files for saleable product. This week’s offering is Nick Love’s film version of the classic 70’s cop show The Sweeney. I won’t be paying to see it, but no doubt it will turn what was an edgy, brilliantly scripted, acted and directed much-loved TV show into another of Love’s Essex-boy-wet-dream tales of “pwopa nawty” folks up to no good, only this time they may have to sympathise with the police. Can’t see that going down with his core demographic.

But, of course, this isn’t the first time the dipsomaniacal duo of Regan and Carter have hit the big screen.  Back in the dark and dingy 70’s pretty much any successful TV was considered fair game for a cinematic outing, so it was inevitable that the biggest cop show on TV would arrive at your local pit with a screech of tyres, a bottle of scotch, and hitting sticks at the ready. Twice.

The first outing, Sweeney! (love the exclamation mark, like a bad west end musical version), arrived in 1977, and a rollicking good ride it is.

Given a slightly larger budget, the film has a slightly larger scope, with our heroes finding themselves involved in a conspiracy at the heart of government, which is leaving a trail of dead bodies for the police to clean up, starting with a high class prostitute played by Oxo mum, Lynda Bellingham. She worked for an extremely dodgy PR man (played by Barry Foster with an even dodgier American accent), who has ingratiated himself into the inner sanctum of Energy Minister Ian Bannen.

Regan and Carter find themselves bashing heads with Special Branch and the Secret Service along the way, though their TV guv’nor Haskins is sorely missed.

Compared to most other TV-to-film adaptations, Sweeney! works as both a continuation of the style of the TV series, and as a standalone film. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise given that the show was filmed on location, on 16mm, and brought an action-orientated style that was the norm for cinema, but rare on TV in those days.

The major difference here is the violence. The Sweeney always got up the nose of Mary Whitehouse and her ilk, for its realism in the fighting stakes, but here it’s taken to a new level. Whilst not particularly gory (at least not by today’s standards), there a few shockingly brutal scenes, mostly involving machine guns fired at close range. One poor sod is shown with bullets embedded in his face, like a reject Cenobite. Another unfortunate is machine gunned to death from behind just as seems they are about to escape the bad guys. A bobby on the beat also meets his end JFK style.

Nudity is far more prominent than would have been allowed at the time, particularly in the opening few scenes, again thanks to the slightly more lax attitude employed by the cinema at the time.

While some have criticised the film for allowing the boys to get mixed up in a caper than would be far too big for the Squad to deal with, it is at least believable how Regan gets embroiled in it (and really this is Regan’s show; Carter is little more than a supporting character here). The dead prostitute was the ‘girlfriend’ of one of Regan’s snouts, who’s convinced she was murdered rather than the official verdict of suicide. Before he realises it, Regan is up to his neck in dead bodies, and he could be next.

The machinations of the plot can get a bit grating a times, when you wish they’d cut back to the Squad taking on a gang of villains, but by the end it all pays off with a rewarding, if rather abrupt, payoff.

The cast are first class. Any fan of the show will know what they are gonna get with John Thaw and Dennis Waterman. I’m no Waterman fan, but his chemistry with Thaw is absolute gold.

Ian Bannen’s oily MP is note perfect. I was particularly impressed with the political impartiality of the character. Outwardly, he gives the impression of a stereotypical Conservative, but there are hints he could be Labour (mentions of unions, his close relationship with a Liberal magazine editor, played by Colin “The British Are Coming!” Welland). By never revealing, and to be honest it matters not, it shrouds him in mystery, and you’re never entirely sure how much he knows about the conspiracy, and what his part in it actually is.

Foster, accent apart, is on top form as the 70’s answer to Malcolm Tucker, Bannen’s Mr Fixit, with motives of his own and an endless supply of high class tarts, and low rent hitmen at his disposal.

The biggest surprise, for me at least, was former coffee-salesman Diane Keen as another of Foster’s girls. She manages to portray a intriguing mix of street-smart independence and wide-eyed innocence, whilst having herself pimped out to Arab oil sheiks, being water boarded by Regan, or wearing one of Carter’s dodgy 70’s dressing gowns.

(Speaking of fashion, it’s a treat for fans of beige shirts, kipper ties and parkas. The sight of John Thaw dishing out exposition, standing in a 70’s bathroom wearing only a flasher mac is a priceless moment in movie history.)

It’s a rarity for a big screen adaptation to be good, let alone true to the spirit of its origins, but Sweeney! manages both.

The sequel, Sweeney 2, almost succeeds as much (many prefer it), but I felt the decision to take the boys out of London and drop them in Malta for a large portion of the film was a mistake. It feels even more violent than its predecessor, and is still worth watching, but it plays more like an extended version of an episode from the TV series.

Right, I better put me trousers on, and have me dinner.