Great British crime movies of the 1970s

 

© Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer

 

If you’d lived in the United Kingdom in the 1970s but your only contact with the outside world had been through the medium of television, you may well have believed you were surrounded by a dystopian society.  One where every bank and security van was in constant danger of being attacked by beefy men with sawn-off shotguns and stockings pulled down over their heads.  One where every street was the potential scene of a violent punch-up and every road was the potential scene of a destructive car chase.  One where the only bulwark against the tide of lawlessness and anarchy was a police-force composed entirely of hard-boozing, chain-smoking, foul-mouthed thugs who wore kipper ties with their shirt-collar buttons undone.  Really, you’d have been too afraid to leave your house.

 

This is because 1970s British television was awash with crime and cop shows – often violent and often populated by revolting low-life criminals and heroes who weren’t much better in their morality: for example, Special Branch (1969-74), Villains (1972), New Scotland Yard (1972-74), The Sweeney (1975-78), Gangsters (1975-78), The XYY Man (1976-77), Target (1977-78), Out (1978), Hazell (1978-79) and Strangers (1978-82).

 

Needless to say, these shows had a big impact on impressible kids like me.  My school playground at breaktimes reverberated with the sound of me and my mates acting out things we’d seen on TV the night before, shouting, “You’re nicked, sunshine!” and “You grassed me off, you slag!” and “No bastard copper’s gonna take me alive!” and “We’re the Sweeney, son, and we haven’t had any dinner!”  My parents were happy to let me watch such programmes – as long as I wasn’t watching that horror rubbish, which had been scientifically proven to be bad for you.

 

Admittedly, 1970s American television was riddled with cop shows too, and British TV producers were probably just working on the supposition that what worked for American audiences would work for British ones.  But the Yank shows just didn’t seem to compare with their Limey counterparts in terms of bad attitude and grubby, sweaty, bad-breathed and greasy-haired authenticity.

 

I suspect a prime reason for this was because the 1970s saw the British film industry die on its arse and British directors, writers and actors who might have expected to ply their trade on the big screen found themselves plying it on the small screen instead.  This helped inject some uncompromising cinematic rawness into the domestic telly crime genre.  Meanwhile, alas, the cinematic counterpart of that genre seemed non-existent.

 

Well, it was almost non-existent.  A few crime movies got made in 1970s Britain too and, though they’re as rare as hen’s teeth, these exert a fascination for me today.  Only two of them ever achieved a degree of fame and the rest are virtually forgotten – but I find all of them cherish-able.  Here are my favourites.

 

© MGM EMI

 

Get Carter (1970)

This is one 1970s British crime film that everyone knows, although I don’t recall it getting much attention until the mid-1990s, when thanks to Britpop, Damien Hirst, etc., the ‘cool Britannia’ scene took off and Get Carter’s star Michael Caine suddenly became a retro-style icon.  Ironically, Caine’s nattily dressed Jack Carter and Roy Budd’s edgy jazz score aside, there isn’t much in Get Carter that feels stylish.  The drab, monochrome terraced streets of Newcastle-upon-Tyne – if the film’s premise is that Michael Caine has returned to his hometown to sort out trouble, whatever happened to Caine’s Geordie accent? – the shabby pubs, the seedy racecourses, the shit clothes and haircuts, the Neanderthal attitudes…  It’s bloody depressing, actually.  If 1970s Britain really had been like this, I can almost understand why when Maggie Thatcher came to power, she bulldozered the place and cleared the way for the 1980s.

 

One thing about Get Carter that’s often overlooked is the performance of the late, great Ian Hendry as the film’s scuzzball villain, Eric Paice.  “Do you know,” Carter tells him at Newcastle Racecourse in High Gosforth Park, “I’d almost forgotten what your eyes look like.  They’re still the same.  Piss-holes in the snow.”  Hendry was originally meant to play the virile Carter, but by 1970 heavy drinking had taken its toll and instead he was given the supporting role of the memorably weasley Paice.  Hendry resented losing the lead role to Caine and things didn’t go well the night before the filming of the racecourse scene when director Mike Hodges and his cast attempted to give it a read-through – Hendry, supposedly, was three-sheets-to-the-wind.  Despite Hendry’s drunken provocations, Caine is said to have kept his professional cool, although he may have enjoyed the irony of the film’s climax, which sees Carter force-feed Paice a bottle of whisky before clubbing him to death with a shotgun.

 

Villain (1971)

Inspired by the real-life exploits of 1960s London crime-lords Reggie and Ronnie Kray, Villain has Richard Burton, no less, in the role of a gay, mother-fixated and paranoidly violent gang-boss who, against the counsel of wiser heads, gets himself involved in a raid on a factory’s wages van that ultimately causes his downfall.  Meanwhile, trying to stay in one piece through all of this is Ian McShane, playing a smooth but unimportant pimp who has the unenviable job of being both the object of Burton’s affections and the victim of his sadistic rages.

 

© MGM EMI

 

Villain has a wonderful supporting cast – T.P. McKenna and Joss Ackland as fellow gang-bosses, Del Henney and Tony Selby as henchmen, and Nigel Davenport and Colin Welland as the coppers doggedly trying to bring Burton to justice.  (Interestingly, McKenna, Henney and Welland all turned up in the cast of Sam Peckinpah’s troubling Straw Dogs, made the following year.)  The film suffers from having too many sub-plots, though the one where McShane helps Burton escape the law by getting a sleazy Member of Parliament who’s been using his pimping services to testify for him is memorably believable and nauseating.  Played by Donald Sinden, you never hear which political party the MP belongs to.  But you can guess.

 

Sitting Target (1972)

Ian McShane had to suffer some dysfunctional relationships in early 1970s British crime movies.  No sooner had he finished being Richard Burton’s lover / punchbag in Villain than he had to cope with being best friend to a psychotic Oliver Reed in Sitting Target, directed by the underrated Douglas Hickox.  With McShane in tow, Reed escapes from prison early in the film, determined to catch up with his wife Jill St John and give her what’s coming to her.  Reed doesn’t want revenge on St John, as you might expect, for her terrible performance as Tiffany Case in Diamonds are Forever (1971).  No, it’s because he’s discovered she’s betrayed him for another man.  The film’s big twist, when we find out who that other man is, isn’t altogether a surprise.

 

Sitting Target has many pleasures, including Edward Woodward playing a policeman assigned to protect St John against the marauding Ollie.  But nothing quite matches the thrilling early sequence where our two anti-heroes, plus a third convict played by the wonderful (and recently departed) character actor Freddie Jones, bust out of prison in desperate, skin-of-the-teeth fashion.

 

© American International Pictures

 

Hennessy (1975)

I wasn’t going to include Don Sharpe’s Hennessy on this list because it’s about terrorism rather than crime.  Indeed, its story of a former IRA explosive expert (Rod Steiger) who decides to destroy the British government and the Queen by blowing up the state opening of parliament after his wife and child are killed by the British Army, makes it the first movie to tackle the issue of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.  However, as the final film on the list is choc-a-bloc with IRA men, and as Richard Johnson gives a lovely performance as the weary, dishevelled, cynical copper – is there any other type in British crime movies? – trying to thwart Steiger’s plan, I thought I’d give it a mention.

 

The film is admittedly patchy but it has a top-notch cast that also includes Lee Remick, Trevor Howard, Eric Porter, Patrick Stewart (bald as a coot even then) and a super-young Patsy Kensit playing Steiger’s ill-fated daughter.  The climactic scenes set in the House of Commons, involving the Queen, landed the filmmakers in hot water because they used real footage that Buckingham Palace had approved without knowing it was going to end up in a film.  Also, the film’s subject, an incredibly touchy one at the time, meant that Hennessy scarcely saw the light of day in British cinemas.

 

Brannigan (1975)

Okay, Brannigan – also directed by Douglas Hickox – is the joker in this pack.  It features John Wayne as a tough American cop who arrives in a London of bowler hats, brollies and historic landmarks that exists only in the imagination of Hollywood scriptwriters, and who then causes mayhem as he behaves like a Wild West sheriff dealing with an unruly frontier town.  This involves such memorable sequences as Wayne doing an Evel Knievel-style car stunt where he hops across Tower Bridge while it parts to let  a ship pass below.  And Wayne triggering a cowboy-style brawl in a pub near Leadenhall Market.  And Wayne roughing up a minor villain played by the cinema’s greatest Yorkshireman, Brian Glover.  (“Now would you like to try for England’s free dental care or answer my question?”)  If you’re in the wrong mood, Brannigan is the worst film ever made.  If you’re in the right mood, it’s the best one.

 

© United Artists

 

The Squeeze (1977)

Barely had John Wayne swaggered through the London underworld than another Hollywood star did the same in Michael Apted’s The Squeeze – Stacy Keach, playing a London private eye with an industrial-strength drink problem. During occasional moments of sobriety, Keach investigates the kidnapping of his ex-wife (Carol White, who played the title role in Ken Loach’s ground-breaking 1966 drama Cathy Come Home).  She’s remarried a posh security officer (Edward Fox) tasked with overseeing the delivery of large sums of money.  Keach finds himself tangling with a kidnap gang who intend to enlist Fox’s unwilling help in mounting an armed robbery.

 

The Squeeze suffers from being overlong, with too much time spent wallowing in Keach’s booze-soaked misery. But this is outweighed by its good points.  I like its depiction of late 1970s multicultural London and its sympathetic portrayal of Keach’s Jamaican neighbours.  Also, Stephen Boyd (who died soon after the film’s completion aged just 45) and David Hemmings give good turns as the villains.  Allowed to use his native Northern Irish accent in a movie for a change, Boyd disturbingly plays a well-heeled crime-lord who dotes over his own family whilst having zero empathy for the family he’s threatening to destroy with his kidnapping scheme.  Meanwhile, Hemmings is a delight as a pragmatic career criminal who doesn’t share his boss’s sunny optimism about things and gets increasingly disgruntled as Keach closes in.

 

© Warner Bros. Pictures

 

And connoisseurs of 1970s British popular culture will be fascinated to see anarchic comedian Freddie Starr in the cast too.  Starr is endearing as Keach’s best mate, a reformed petty criminal trying to make a living as a taxi driver. Indeed, such is Starr’s loyalty to Keach that he saves his neck three times towards and during the film’s climax, most memorably by running the villains off the road in his taxi.  Starr, who died in May this year, was from all accounts an unreconstructed arsehole in real life.  So remember him this way.

 

Sweeney II (1978)

The greatest of all 1970s British cop shows, The Sweeney got two movie spin-offs, Sweeney! In 1977 and Sweeney II a year later.  I don’t think Sweeney!, which attempted to involve Flying Squad heroes Jack Regan (John Thaw) and George Carter (Dennis Waterman) in an espionage plot, is much cop, but Sweeney II captures the spirit of the TV series.  With Regan and Carter on the trail of a gang who spend most of their time living it up in Malta as wealthy British ex-pats but who return to Britain from time to time to stage vicious, take-no-prisoners bank robberies, the films marries bloody, sawn-off-shotgun-powered violence with some off-the-wall humour.  As one of Regan’s sidekicks, Derek O’Connor gets the funniest lines: “It’s a combination of nerves and smoking too much,” he says when explaining his libido.  “I get a hard-on like a milk bottle.”

 

© Euston Films / EMI

 

Sweeney II is good, loutish fun, then, but it manages to be topical too.  London’s real Metropolitan Police force was investigated for corruption in the late 1970s and the film reflects this with the character of Regan’s commanding officer, played by the excellent Denholm Elliott, who’s facing a long stretch in prison on account of being “so bent it’s been impossible to hang his pictures straight on the office wall for the past twelve months.”

 

The Long Good Friday (1980)

Although it was released at the start of the 1980s, John Mackenzie’s The Long Good Friday was made in 1979, so I’m classifying it as a 1970s film.  And it definitely feels like it’s drawing the curtain on a particular era with its tale of an old school London gangster (Bob Hoskins) convinced he’s about to make a mint in the brave new world of Thatcherite London, where everything is up for sale to the corporations and developers – until one day when he suddenly finds himself tangling with a ruthless foe, the IRA, that makes him look hopelessly out of his depth.

 

The final scene sees Hoskins become a prisoner in his own, hijacked car and get driven to his doom – an IRA man played by a youthful Pierce Brosnan snakes up from behind the front passenger seat to hold him at gunpoint.  Although Hoskins doesn’t speak, the succession of emotions that flit across his face as it dawns on him that he had it all, but now he’s blown it all, make this the most powerful moment in British crime-movie history.

 

© Black Lion Films / Handmade Films / Paramount British Pictures

 

Great unappreciated films: Juggernaut

 

(c) United Artists

 

At a loose end a few Sunday afternoons ago, I sat down on the sofa and on a satellite movie channel watched 1974’s The Towering Inferno for the first time in years.  For people my age, the 1970s were synonymous with big glossy disaster movies in which top Hollywood stars were threatened by (and often succumbed to) death by earthquake, avalanche, tidal wave, meteor or crashing airplane.  The Towering Inferno, in which 294 guests celebrating the opening of the world’s tallest building at a reception on its top-floor promenade room are endangered when a massive fire erupts 54 floors below them, is commonly seen as the daddy of all disaster movies.  For me and no doubt for millions of my contemporaries, the title of the film conjures up happy childhood memories of sitting in grubby 1970s cinemas, munching popcorn and enjoying the spectacle of Richard Chamberlain, Robert Wagner, Robert Vaughan, Jennifer Jones, etc. being incinerated or plunging 135 storeys to their doom.

 

Alas, seen in the cold light of 2014, The Towering Inferno doesn’t live up to those happy memories.  Steve McQueen and Paul Newman are great in it, just by being themselves, but otherwise it’s a big, absurd and rather dull soap opera.  The characters are mainly a bunch of obnoxious, ultra-rich bastards swanning around that promenade room in tuxedoes and evening gowns, getting their champagne poured by deferential waiters (probably working below the minimum wage and on zero-hour contracts), whilst listening to some musical flunky tinkling on the ivories of a grand piano and a chanteuse warbling We May Never Love Like This Again, the blandest power ballad in the history of the cinema.  You really want the flames to rush up the building and singe their smug arses.  And to make things worse, O.J. Simpson is in it.  And to make things even worse, George Kennedy isn’t in it.

 

Indeed, I suspect that, seen today, nearly all those big-budget 1970s disaster movies – Earthquake, The Poseidon Adventure and so on – would seem like a load of tosh.  However, I can safely say that there’s one 1970s disaster movie that was great then and is still great now.  It made little impact at the time and has been unjustly neglected since, no doubt because it eschewed the big dumb spectacle of those aforementioned Hollywood epics in favour of such unsexy things as character development and claustrophobic tension.  However, those qualities are what make it seem so good now.  It’s a British movie, but one made by an immensely talented American director, Richard Lester.  It is… Juggernaut.

 

Released in 1974, the year of The Towering Inferno, the plot of Juggernaut is simple.  A cruise liner called SS Britannic is crossing the Atlantic with 1200 passengers on board when the shipping firm that owns it receives a telephone call from someone calling himself ‘Juggernaut’.  He informs them that a half-dozen bombs have been secretly stowed on board the Britannic and these will shortly explode unless a ransom is paid.  Unfortunately, the firm is heavily subsidised by the British government, which means they call the shots – and the political powers-that-be make it clear that no ransom will be paid because their policy is not to negotiate with terrorists.  Even more unfortunately, the Britannic is currently beset by stormy weather, which makes it impossible to evacuate the passengers and crew.

 

So you have a ship, filled with people who can’t be taken off it, and you also have a bunch of bombs on board that will very likely explode because the nutcase who planted them there isn’t going to receive his ransom money.  Who ya gonna call?

 

Richard Harris!

 

Richard Harris?  With all respect to Harris, the legendary Irish actor doesn’t immediately strike me as the actor you’d cast in the role of a bomb disposal expert who gets parachuted aboard a cruise liner to defuse six bombs while 1200 lives are at stake.  It’s fair to say that at the time Harris had a bit of a reputation as a booze-hound.  In fact, in the 1970s, he was putting away as much as two-and-a-half bottles of vodka a day, which would suggest he’s the very last person you’d want attempting to dismantle a large explosive device in your vicinity.

 

(c) United Artists 

 

Nonetheless, Harris it is.  He plays Lieutenant Commander Fallon, head of a Royal Navy team of bomb disposal men whom the government sends to the Britannic to foil the mad bomber’s plans.  Incidentally, Harris’s number two, Braddock, is played by 1960s heartthrob David Hemmings.  Harris and Hemmings had previously worked together in Camelot, the 1968 musical about King Arthur, and despite Harris punching Hemmings at a party and splitting his lip, the two of them became good mates.  Indeed, Hemmings once managed to dissuade an inebriated Harris from jumping off the balcony of his Hollywood Hills apartment into the swimming pool below by pointing out, tactfully, that the swimming pool didn’t have any water in it.

 

While Harris, Hemmings and their men grapple with the bombs on the Britannic, the police back in Britain try to identify Juggernaut by interviewing all the known bomb experts who have the technical ability to mount such an operation.  (I won’t say who plays Juggernaut, but anyone with a knowledge of shifty, twitchy and sweaty 1970s British character actors should be able to guess immediately who it is.)  Leading the investigation is Superintendent John McLeod, played by a disconcertingly young-looking Anthony Hopkins, who has a personal stake in its outcome – because his wife and children happen to be passengers on board the Britannic at the moment.

 

And that’s about it.  The film follows both the hunt for Juggernaut on dry land and the increasingly desperate attempts of Harris and his team on the ship to disarm the bombs – which have also been booby-trapped to deter attempts to tinker with them – and it focuses too on an array of passengers and crew-members as they try to deal with the crisis unfolding around them.  A couple of bombs explode prematurely, and certain people die, but the ship just about manages to stay afloat.  However, can the three Hs – Harris, Hemmings and Hopkins – thwart Juggernaut before the majority of the bombs go off and blow the Britannic out of the water?

 

It’s fair to say that by the mid-1970s director Richard Lester was at the height of his powers.  In the 1960s he’d achieved fame directing the Beatles movies and he’d also made 1969’s surreal, post-apocalyptic black comedy The Bed-Sitting Room, which is surely one of the weirdest things in the history of British cinema.  Just before Juggernaut he’d completed The Three and The Four Musketeers, a pair of films that are the wittiest, best-cast and most entertaining of the many cinematic versions of the novel by Alexandre Dumas père.  He was also starting work on a version of another popular and much-filmed tale, Robin Hood.  Released in 1976, Lester’s bitter-sweet film about an older and disillusioned Robin Hood, Robin and Marion, which starred Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn, got indifferent reviews at the time but is now seen as a minor classic.

 

Lester was drafted in as director of Juggernaut at short notice – two other directors, Bryan Forbes and Don Medford, had been involved in the project but had quit.  His participation was contingent on the script being rewritten.  From all accounts, the original script for Juggernaut, by writer / producer Richard Alan Simmons, was pretty generic disaster-movie stuff.  Luckily, the rewrite was done by the distinguished north-of-England playwright and screenwriter Alan Plater, who at that point was most famous for working on the BBC’s seminal police series Z-Cars and its spinoff Softly Softly.  No doubt Plater contributed much of the quirkiness, eccentricity, grim humour and general beleaguered, keep-calm-and-carry-on sense of Britishness that make Juggernaut so pleasantly distinctive.

 

(c) United Artists

 

Also distinctive were the conditions under which Lester shot the film.  A real 25,000-ton cruise ship was used, one that’d been owned by a German shipping company and called the TS Hamburg, but that’d recently been sold to the Soviet Union and renamed the SS Maxim Gorki.  To make some extra money, the Soviets rented it out to the filmmakers for two-and-a-half weeks just before it went into proper service again, carrying passengers.  Lester and his team set sail for the North Atlantic looking for the right weather conditions to go with the script – conditions so stormy that it’d be impossible to deploy lifeboats and evacuate the ship.  “We found only two days’ bad weather out of sixteen,” said Lester in an interview on the website www.parallax-view.org in 2002, “but we had our own cast, crew and extras all on board. We were served by lovely ladies from Odessa—endless supplies of vodka, seven-course meals—and we made the poor captain’s eyes water as we asked him to do things with his ship which I’m sure are against every code of ethics on the sea.”

 

Among those un-seamanlike things was the filming of a scene where an explosion blew off one of the ship’s funnels.  Aware that the Soviet captain would probably draw the line at that, Lester sneakily waited until the ship got back to port.  In an interview in the Guardian in 1999, Lester recalled, “You’re not allowed to bring dynamite aboard a commercial liner, but we did and we didn’t say anything.  On the last day of shooting, just as we were about to get back to Southampton, our producer got one of the world’s first digital watches and had it inscribed with, ‘To Captain Alexandrov Dondua with the grateful thanks from the cast and crew of Juggernaut’.  And we had a presentation ceremony, got all the senior (crew) on the bridge, and just as he was handing it over at precisely 10.00 a.m. – BOOM! – we blew up the funnel with four cameras on it and a helicopter up above.  By that time it was too late and we docked at 11.30.”

 

Considering the ingenuity Lester and his film crew had to deploy on board the Maxim Gorki, I feel churlish for pointing out that the storm scenes are not always convincing.  For example, during an early sequence where Harris’s team parachute into the sea around the liner and the sailors try to fish them out before they drown, the ship’s deck doesn’t seem to be pitching around as violently as the waves are rising and falling.  However, these inconsistencies in the film’s editing are easily overlooked because the viewer is so engaged with the characters and story.

 

And the characters are engaging.  Harris plays Fallon as a weary, dishevelled but lovable warrior-poet, musing philosophically while he pokes and probes at the bombs – my favourite utterance in Juggernaut is probably Harris’s despairing line, “Remember what the goldfish said?  ‘There must be a god!  I mean, who else changes the water?’”  However, he also isn’t averse to sinking a bottle of whisky when Things Go Wrong.  No doubt the brave, poetic and boozy persona Harris projects here is the persona he attempted to project in real life.

 

Also good is Roy Kinnear, the roly-poly English actor who was a regular in Richard Lester’s movies.  He plays the ship’s entertainment officer, who has the unenviable job of keeping the passengers’ spirits up when at any moment they could be blown up.  Kinnear isn’t very good at it – the fancy-dress party he organises sees one person appear dressed as the Grim Reaper and carrying a round black object with BOMB written on it.  Late on, however, in a generous moment in Plater’s script, a glamorous American passenger played by Shirley Knight thanks the harassed Kinnear for his efforts by inviting him onto the ship’s ballroom floor for a dance.

 

Even actor Clifton James – best-known for playing the loud, dumb, redneck Louisiana police officer Sheriff J.W. Pepper in two Roger Moore James Bond movies, Live and Let Die (1973) and The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) – plays someone who’s more interesting than you’d initially expect.  His character Corrigan, another passenger, seems set up to be a stereotypical gormless American tourist, but he gets some of the sharpest dialogue and shows there’s more to him than meets the eye.  Early on, when the ship’s crew are trying to keep the existence of the bombs a secret, he memorably tells the third officer: “Buddy, I am by profession a politician, the mayor of a rather large city as a matter of fact.  In my line of work, you have to be able to lie with remarkable precision.  You also have to know how to recognise a lie when it bites you in the ass…  And I have just been bitten.”  (Admirably straight-faced, the third officer replies, “I’ll convey your complaint to the captain, sir.”)

 

I also like how Lester and Plater populate the film with incidents, characters and half-seen story threads that don’t necessarily relate to the main plot but that suggest there really is a bigger world out there, beyond the perimeters of the film, getting on with its own business.  There are the kids who get shooed away from Hopkins’ police car and nonchalantly flick V-signs at him as they walk off; the minor character played by Ben Aris who’s seen pacing obsessively about the deck, though why he does so is never explained; the steward played by Roshan Seth (later to play Nehru in Richard Attenburgh’s 1982 Oscar-winner Gandhi), whose accent switches from clichéd Hollywood Indian when he’s with the passengers to broad Cockney when he isn’t; and the scenes involving the family of Nicholas Porter, played by another disconcertingly young-looking actor, Ian Holm, who runs the shipping company but has to do what the government tells him.

 

(c) United Artists

 

There are also glimpses of a brief, half-hearted and ultimately bitter affair that Knight has with the Britannic’s captain, who’s played by none other than the great Egyptian actor, Omar Sharif.  Near the end, while passengers and crew are preparing to enter a sea that most of them are unlikely to survive, Kinnear glumly tells Knight that it could be worse: “Well, there are no icebergs.”  Spying Sharif on the bridge, Knight replies, “Correction.”

 

At the same time, Juggernaut is nail-biting as a thriller and the scenes where Harris and Hemmings work on the bombs are as tense as anything else filmed in the 1970s.  The two men banter away affably, even though they know that at any moment they could be blown to pieces, which somehow makes the tension even more intolerable.  “May you inherit the earth,” says Harris beatifically at one point.  “Yeah,” replies Hemmings, “six feet of it, I think.”

 

Finally, there’s something undeniably melancholic about the film.  On one level, it feels like a paean to Britain in the twilight years of its history – and certainly by 1974, following the Oil Crisis, the era when the country had been a world power felt a long time ago indeed.  Britain, it seemed, had nothing left, save for its sense of humour and eccentricity (which of course are well represented in Juggernaut).  It’s easy to see the film’s setting as a metaphor for the state of the nation – here’s a ship called the Britannic, adrift at sea, threatened by dangers outside and inside.  And the bloke at the helm is actually an Arab…

 

Juggernaut is also sad in retrospect because it’s one of the last chances to see its three main actors at their youthful peak.  Afterwards, Hopkins’ career would be steady but unspectacular until, of course, he achieved Hollywood stardom with The Silence of the Lambs (1989) – not as a leading man, though, but as everyone’s favourite middle-aged cannibal, Hannibal Lector.  Hemmings became a director, of TV shows and minor films.  When he did make the occasional film appearance in later life, he looked shockingly bloated, with eyebrows that seemed the size of tarantulas.

 

And as for Harris – well, he’d eventually stage a comeback, in Jim Sheridan’s The Field (1990) and Clint Eastwood’s The Unforgiven (1992), and he returned to making big movies like Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (1999) and the first two Harry Potter films.  But for a decade-and-a-half after Juggernaut, his acting career would be in freefall, his movie CV blotted by some god-awful pieces of rubbish.  When I see him in the very last scene of Juggernaut, treating his psychic wounds with a big glass of whisky on the Britannic’s deck, I wonder if he suspected what was in store for him when he got back to dry land – The Cassandra Crossing (1976), Orca Killer Whale (1977), Golden Rendezvous (1977), Tarzan the Ape Man (1981).  From a film about bombs to a string of films that were bombs.