The Squeeze: British Movie Night #2

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The Squeeze Original Quad Poster
This week, a 1977 crime drama set in London starring Stacy Keach, David Hemmings and Edward Fox along with Carol White (see my previous post).

The cast also includes Freddie Starr, one of Britain’s most popular and highest paid TV stars of the era, a man who’d also been a part of the Merseybeat boom as singer with The Midnighters. But he ate one hamster and that’s what he’ll always be remembered for.*

You also might just be able to glimpse Sex Pistols’ guitarist Steve Jones, who was an extra in the film – this being before his band had imprinted themselves on the consciousness of the nation. In his autobiography Lonely Boy, Jones recalled: ‘You can see me walking through Portobello Market wearing a Hawaiian shirt. Cookie saw it by chance on late-night TV once and nearly fell off his fucking sofa.’

Paul Cook must blink less than I do.

Jim Naboth (Stacy Keach) has been a Scotland Yard detective superintendent and a good one too by all accounts. As the film kicks off, though, he’s steaming drunk on the London Underground. The sort of guy you hope doesn’t get talking to you, if you’re sitting in his vicinity.

Ciggy in mouth, collar and tie undone, and with a bottle of VAT 69 in his pocket, he sways from side to side as he exits the tube train. It’s no big surprise when he collapses down an escalator and ends up in hospital.

When he’s judged fit enough to leave, he heads straight to the nearest boozer. It’s four years since he investigated anything. He is no longer part of the police force and is now on Social Security. His one-time wife Jill (Carol White) has left him to look after their two kids even though he can hardly look after himself.

Stacy Keach in The Squeeze

She has married a wealthy businessman called Foreman (Edward Fox). When their daughter Christine is kidnapped, Jim feels the need to become involved.

Stephen Boyd plays Vic, the man who has planned the kidnap. He’s a devoted father, a Rotarian and utterly ruthless. He’s also well read and chides one of his gang Keith (David Hemmings) for not reading more. ‘Instead of all that poncing about at disco clubs.’ Vic has read Arthur Koestler’s 1972 book The Roots of Coincidence but he’d have been better poncing about at disco clubs himself as he maybe shouldn’t put quite so much faith in Koestler’s ideas on the subject.

When he catches Jim sniffing around in his home, he threatens him with a shotgun and instructs a henchman to repeatedly batter him with a baseball bat.

Vic pours him a ‘lying bastard cocktail’, whose ingredients remain a mystery but which judging from Jim’s reaction must be potent. Very potent, although Jim continues to lie. Vic judges him to be too much of a mess to be any kind of threat but makes him strip because he’s ‘stinking the fucking place out,’ and drops him off naked outside his house. It won’t be the last time a character is humiliated in The Squeeze.

Jim enlists the help of Ted (Freddie Starr), a thief who he once arrested. Although still thieving, the two have somehow formed a bond and Ted now spends chunks of his time trying to persuade Jim to pack in the booze, and making sure he’s eating properly.

Luckily, Jim’s cop instincts haven’t deserted him completely, but he’s hardly the ideal person to pursue a callous gang of criminals. There’s almost as much tension created around the idea that he might relapse into some serious boozing while he attempts to rescue his ex.

In the world of Jim Naboth, dry sherry is nothing but an aperitif. ‘It’s not even drinking in my book.’ Brandy isn’t drinking either although I’m pretty sure the Department of Health might disagree with him.

The Squeeze 1977 lobby card

It’s been said that the producers persuaded a former local gangster to help out so that shooting in some dodgy locations would go smoothly. And on the subject of locations, Jim lives in a shabby pad in Notting Hill – a very different Notting Hill to the gentrified area of the cosy romcom with Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant.

Seeing Ind Coope pubs on the streets of West London, I was instantly reminded me of my first visit to the capital as a teenager in the late 1970s. Jim also visits a pre-santised, spectacularly sleazy Soho, where Ted treats him to a – ahem – massage after Jim has spent an evening in Cardboard City under the Westway. The pair also visit Oxford Street, where Debenhams employs a top hatted doorman to keep out riff-raff. Like Jim.

Directed by Michael Apted, The Squeeze is pretty much forgotten today despite its notable cast. It’s no Long Good Friday but I liked it even though it does come over like a TV drama at times (I’m thinking particularly of The Sweeney). Leon Griffiths, who adapted the screenplay from David Craig’s novel Whose Little Girl Are You?, went on to devise Minder, one of Britain’s most popular shows of the 1980s.

David Hentschel’s first day of paid employment was spent making the tea for the participants of a session at Trident Studios in London where David Bowie’s Space Oddity was being recorded. He went on to bigger things including composing scores for a number of films. His work here is pretty effective and definitely ahead of its time. There’s some other music utilised too such as The Stylistics’ romantic ballad You Make Me Feel Brand New.

This accompanies a sequence that is excruciating to watch, when Keith and the gang force Jill to strip naked in front of them. Carol White excels here portraying a scared woman doing anything she can to help the chances of survival for herself and stepdaughter. I’d like to know what The Stylistics thought of the song’s use here.

Although Jill might do anything to protect Christine, she isn’t an entirely sympathetic character here. Not only has she has abandoned two of her children but she visits them infrequently. She also arguably left Jim when needed her most. As the man himself puts it bluntly: ‘[She] ran out on me the first time I got so drunk I pissed the bed.’

By this point, White herself was abusing drink and drugs and you could have forgiven her if she had turned down the role of the ex-wife of an alcoholic. It’s another brave performance from her and one of her final appearances on the big screen.

Alexander Walker in The Evening Standard considered The Squeeze ‘a British gangland movie determined to be quite as tough, bloody, violent, squalid and ugly as any Hollywood model.’ The Daily Mirror summed it up as ‘a package tour of thuggery’.

Okay. A film called The Squeeze with Carol White, star of 1968 drama Up The Junction. You can likely see where this is leading. From the fine pop year that was 1979, here’s a song that I’ve never heard a single person say anything negative about, although Squeeze’s manager of time Miles Copeland thought it shouldn’t be a single due to the lack of a chorus. This is Squeeze and Up The Junction. Oh the memories!

* One of the most bizarre headlines in British newspaper history and obviously a total invention. Freddie Starr was a vegetarian for starters.


Made (1972): British Movie Night #1


Made (1972)

The name British Movie Night is borrowed from a series of dramas screened on Sunday nights on BBC2 early in 1981. Beforehand, a series called The Great American Picture Show had showcased films like Nashville – which I suspected I wouldn’t like due to its country and western musical background although that turned out to be a fantastic watch.

Made didn’t strike me as very promising either due to the presence of Roy Harper. In an age of New Order, Talking Heads and Grandmaster Flash, Harper struck the young me as a relic of the past, the sort of act that should have been outlawed years beforehand. Okay, I’m exaggerating slightly but I was pretty hardline back then. When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease? No thankyou. Even that title was enough to put me off.

Here he plays a singer/songwriter Mike Preston, already successful enough to appear on TV and be interviewed by Bob Harris, stay in swanky hotels and play shows in the States.

Roy Harper in Made

On Brighton beach, Mike meets single parent Valerie Marshall, a Londoner down on a day trip. Valerie is played by Carol White, a woman once dubbed the Battersea Bardot (even if she was from Hammersmith). Valerie’s youngish and good looking – although not as glammy here as she was in Dulcima – another film included in the British Movie Night series. She lives with her bedridden (and needy) mother, who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis. While acting as her part time carer, she also looks after her baby Scott and works as a switchboard operator.

Home is a grim council flat in a part of south-east London that fully embraced the whole brutalist architecture craze. Around the same time as director John Mackenzie was filming in Woolwich and nearby Charlton, Stanley Kubrick was shooting scenes in neighbouring Thamesmead for A Clockwork Orange. Both films represented Britain at the 33rd Venice Film Festival, along with Bill Douglas’s My Childhood, which won the Silver Lion Award for Best First Film. A Clockwork Orange was voted Best Foreign Film. Made won nothing.

John Castle & Carol White in Made

When a new priest in the area Father Dyson knocks on Valerie’s door, she’s glad to have the opportunity to chat with someone her own age and she’s delighted when he offers up the possibility of finding a home help to give her a hand looking after her mum. A friendship develops.

Dyson and Preston appear polar opposites. Dyson is a square. Preston is a rebel. The pair compete for Valerie’s affections. One with a hedonistic and hippyish philosophy, the other with organised religion. Another character Mahdav Gupta also comes into Valerie’s orbit. A fool and a fantasist, he attempts to win her over with a combination of flattery and atrocious poetry.

Of course, the priest and the singer take an instant dislike to each other. These rivals do have their good points. But both share a sense of moral superiority over anybody who dares to disagree with their worldview. Ultimately, Mike is self-obsessed, disguising his selfishness through his ‘alternative’ belief system. Dyson is controlling and insensitive.

They both want to use Valerie in different ways, but I don’t want to tell you too much more or I might ruin your enjoyment of the film if you decide to watch.

Roy Harper and John Castle in Made

Edinburgh born John Mackenzie isn’t into his full stride on directorial duties as yet but he does occasionally experiment with editing in a striking manner likely influenced by Nic Roeg. He certainly did a fantastic job in shooting one of the most disturbing scenes in British cinema as rival football fans fight it out while baby Scott is being taken out in his pram by Valerie’s babysitting pal June. A mini Battleship Potemkin by the Thames.

Made is far from perfect. Mackenzie later dismissed it ‘a bit of a mess’ and screenwriter Howard Barker considered it ‘a disastrous and painful experience’. The idea of reshoots became impossible when, in the wake of filming, Roy Harper was suddenly diagnosed with a rare medical condition known as Hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia (HHT), which left him incapacitated for months.

Most books that examine British cinema of the period such as Paul Newland’s Don’t Look Now: British Cinema in the 1970s fail to mention Made, although Simon Matthews devoted a page to it in his highly recommended 2016 book Psychedelic Celluloid. The BBFC foisted an X on the film, and few saw it in cinemas.

Made - Valerie & June

It is one of the most staggeringly bleak British films ever made. But it is also undoubtedly – cliche alert – a fascinating time capsule of early 1970s Britain, an era of power cuts and feather cuts, Ted Heath and T.Rex.

Interestingly, Marc Bolan is said to have turned down the Mike Preston role. He was likely too busy penning three minute pop classics and preparing to appear in Born To Boogie. This was likely a better way to make use of his creativity. It’s hard to imagine the bopping elf doing a better job than Harper and his superstar presence would have surely proved a distraction. Harper is pretty convincing on the whole, although he never acted in another film, concentrating on his music.

Director John Mackenzie went on to add The Long Good Friday and BBC Play For Today Just Another Saturday to his CV.

Carol White moved back to America after the film wrapped. It’s safe to say that Carol possessed more than her fair share of demons. Insecure and depressed, she tried to commit suicide for the second time. Her career never matched the promise of early dramas like Cathy Come Home and Poor Cow, although she is utterly authentic here and turns in a fearless performance. She made only three more films and was dead by 1991.

Four of the Roy Harper songs used during the film later featured in different versions on his 1973 album Lifemask. There’s also music composed by John Cameron who had previously contributed to a score to Kes.

Produced by Peter Jenner, who also has a small role in Made, and with Jimmy Page guesting on electric guitar, this is Harper’s Bank of the Dead (Valerie’s Song), which in Made was titled Social Casualty. Released in October 1972, here it is and I rather like it nowadays: