Great British crime movies of the 1970s

 

© Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer

 

I’ve been busy lately and unable to post much on this blog.  Here’s a reposting of something that first appeared here in 2019.

 

During the 1970s, when I was a kid and when I absorbed cultural influences like a sponge, crime movies made in the United Kingdom were rarer than hen’s teeth.  That’s hardly surprising.  During that decade, the British film industry practically died on its arse.

 

And yet, as a kid, I got the impression that 1970s Britain was so crime-ridden it was dystopian.  It was a place where every bank and security van was in constant danger of being attacked by beefy men with sawn-off shotguns and stockings pulled over their heads.  Where every street was the potential scene of a violent punch-up and every road was the potential scene of a destructive car chase.  Where the police force scarcely seemed any better than the villains, its ranks composed of hard-boozing, chain-smoking, foul-mouthed thugs wearing kipper ties.  Really, at times, I must’ve been too afraid to leave my house.

 

This is because 1970s British television was awash with crime and cop shows, often violent and populated by low-life characters on both sides of the law: 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).  Impressionable kids like me would act out things we’d seen on TV the night before, so that at breaktimes school playgrounds reverberated with shouts of “You’re nicked, sunshine!” and “You grassed me off, you slag!” 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.

 

I suppose that many British directors, writers and actors who would have plied their trade on the big screen, if Britain’s film industry hadn’t been moribund, found themselves plying it on the small screen instead.  This helped inject some uncompromising cinematic rawness into the domestic TV crime genre.  But the cinematic counterpart of that genre seemed non-existent.

 

Well, almost non-existent.  A few crime movies did get made in 1970s Britain and 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)

Everyone knows this 1970s British crime film, although I don’t recall it getting much attention until the 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 the Mike Hodges-directed 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 depressing, actually.  It’s a provincial Britain where the Swinging Sixties have truly burned themselves out – if the Swinging Sixties ever reached provincial Britain in the first place.

 

Caine gets all the acting accolades for Get Carter but the film wouldn’t be what it is without its excellent supporting cast: Alun Armstrong, Britt Ekland, George Sewell, Tony Beckley and playwright and occasional actor John Osborne.  Best of all, there’s Ian Hendry as the film’s weasly villain, Eric Paice.  “Do you know,” Carter tells Paice at one point, “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 his fondness for the booze had taken its toll and he was demoted to the secondary role of Paice, which supposedly caused tension and resentment during filming.  Thus, Caine 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)

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 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.

 

Villain also has a wonderful supporting cast – T.P. McKenna and Joss Ackland as fellow gang-bosses, Del Henney, John Hallam and (alas, the recently-departed) 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 used 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 always-entertaining character actor Freddie Jones, bust out of prison in desperate, skin-of-the-teeth fashion.

 

The Offence (1972)

Okay, Sidney Lumet’s The Offence (which I’ve previously devoted a whole blog-entry to) isn’t really a crime movie.  It’s a psychological study of a macho but troubled police officer (Sean Connery) going over the edge when a hunt for a child-killer, and the provocations of the suspect the police have pulled in for questioning (Ian Bannon), push too many buttons on his damaged psyche.  But the film has that grim 1970s aesthetic that more conventional British crime movies of the period are so fond of – drab housing estates, anonymous tower blocks, serpentine pedestrian bridges.  Its supporting cast also includes strapping character actor John Hallam who, although he’s probably best remembered as Brian Blessed’s Hawkman sidekick in 1980’s Flash Gordon, was a fixture in crime movies at this time.  So, I’m putting The Offence on my list.

 

© American International Pictures

 

Hennessy (1975)

I’m also conflicted about adding Don Sharpe’s Hennessy to 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, John Hallam (again), 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)

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 too in Michael Apted’s The Squeeze – Stacy Keach, although playing an English private eye with an industrial-strength drink problem. During occasional moments of sobriety, Keach investigates the kidnapping of his ex-wife (Carol White).  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 planning to force Fox to help them mount an armed robbery.

 

The Squeeze suffers from being overlong, with too much time spent wallowing in Keach’s alcoholism. But its good points outweigh this.  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 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 good as a pragmatic career criminal who doesn’t share his boss’s sunny optimism about things.

 

And connoisseurs of 1970s British popular culture will be fascinated to see anarchic comedian Freddie Starr play Keach’s best mate, a reformed 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 at the end of the film, including by running the villains off the road in his taxi.  Starr, who died in 2019, was from all accounts an unreconstructed arsehole in real life.  Therefore, remember him this way.

 

© Warner Bros. Pictures

 

Sweeney II (1978)

The greatest of all 1970s British cop shows, The Sweeney got two movie spin-offs, Sweeney! In 1977 and Sweeney II.  I don’t think Sweeney!, which involved 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.  It has 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.  As well as marrying bloody, sawn-off-shotgun-powered violence with some off-the-wall humour, Sweeney II manages to be topical too.  London’s real Metropolitan Police force was investigated for corruption in the late 1970s.  The film reflects this with the character of Regan’s commanding officer, played by the excellent Denholm Elliot, 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 and so I’m classifying it as a 1970s film.  It definitely feels the end of 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.  That’s until one day when he suddenly finds himself tangling with a ruthless foe, the IRA, who make 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

A wide open space odyssey

 

© Pan Books

 

So it’s farewell to the author Larry McMurtry, who passed away on March 25th at the age of 84.  Here’s what I wrote on this blog about Mr McMurtry’s most famous opus after I finished reading it early last year.

 

The cowboy-herding, dust-churning, all-mooing-and-lowing cattle drive may not be the biggest trope in the western genre.  That accolade probably belongs to the High Noon-style showdown.  But it’s surely a major one.

 

Most famously, a cattle drive figured in the classic 1948 Howard Hawks / John Wayne western movie Red River and as late as 1972 Wayne was still herding cattle across the prairies in Mark Rydell’s The Cowboys.  Elsewhere, cattle drives have been the basis for eight seasons of the western TV series Rawhide (1959-65), been subjected to revisionism in the raw-edged film The Culpepper Cattle Co (1972), been lovingly parodied in the Billy Crystal comedy City Slickers (1991) and even been reimagined in a bucolic British setting in Richard Eyre’s Singleton’s Pluck (1984).  That last movie, written by Brian Glover and starring Ian Holm, told the tale of a poultry farmer who’s forced by a transport workers’ strike to walk his thousands of geese to market, all the way from Norfolk to London.

 

However, the above cattle drives last within the timeframes of films or TV episodes and take up no more than a couple of hours of your time.  By the time you get through the 843 pages of Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Lonesome Dove (1985), you almost feel you’ve taken part in a cattle drive.  I started reading it at the beginning of 2020 and by the time I’d finished it the most of three weeks later, I felt mentally as saddle-sore as its characters felt physically after riding from the parched plains of southern Texas to the wintry uplands of Montana.  Though, like those characters when they arrived in Montana, the feeling was accompanied by a buzz of fulfilment and satisfaction too.

 

To be fair, the cattle drive in Lonesome Dove doesn’t take all of 843 pages.  There’s a leisurely preamble whereby McMurtry sets up his characters and prepares them, and the reader, for the odyssey ahead.  The characters belong to the Hat Creek Cattle Company, based at the south Texan town of the title, Lonesome Dove.  The company’s proprietors are two former Texas Rangers, the garrulous, witty, warm-hearted and philosophical Augustus ‘Gus’ McCrae and the stiff, unsociable, emotionally repressed and work-driven W. F. Call.  Gus reminds Call early on: “You was born in Scotland…  I know they brought you over when you was still draggin’ on the tit, but that don’t make you no less a Scot.”  Obviously, Call never recovered from his early exposure to Calvinism.

 

One day, a familiar face appears on their property.  This is Jake Spoon, another ex-ranger and an old friend of theirs but someone who makes a living by gambling rather than cattle-dealing.  It transpires that the charming but unprincipled and fickle Jake is on the run because he accidentally killed a man after a card game turned ugly in the Arkansas town of Fort Smith.  The victim managed to be the town’s dentist, and the town’s mayor, and the brother of the town’s sheriff, July Johnson.  Also, Jake brings with him stories about the opportunities offered by the newly opened-up, barely explored and still unpopulated territory of Montana.  This prompts Call to gather together the company’s livestock, employees and physical possessions, such as they are, and abandon Lonesome Dove and embark on an epic journey north.  The hope is that their business will prosper on Montana’s seemingly limitless grazing lands.

 

To bolster their supplies of cattle and horses before they leave, Call and Gus embark on a raid across the border and steal some herds from a wealthy Mexican rancher called Pedro Flores.  They do this without any moral qualms, since the unscrupulous Flores does the same thing regularly in the other direction, from Mexico into Texas.

 

Also, they increase their crew by hiring for the drive a motley collection of cowpokes, misfits and youngsters.  Jake tags along too, taking with him a young prostitute called Lorena from Lonesome Dove’s saloon, who’s fallen, temporarily at least, for his oily charms.  But the workshy Jake keeps his distance from the Hat Creek gang and sets up a private camp for himself and Lorena.  They quickly lose their enthusiasm for camping and the outdoors as it becomes apparent that pampered, saloon-loving cardsharp Jake is no Bear Grylls.

 

And so our heroes hit the trail.  There follow hundreds of pages featuring sandstorms, thunderstorms, blizzards, hazardous river crossings, run-ins with bad ’uns and encounters with unfriendly wildlife such as locusts, snakes and bears.  Other characters appear, including Sheriff July Johnson and his hapless deputy Roscoe, rival cattle baron Mr Wilbarger, murderous renegade Indian Blue Duck, the no-better trio of white outlaws the Suggs Brother, and feisty Clara Allen, once courted in her youth by both Gus and Jake.  Clara now runs a horse ranch in Nebraska and Gus, still carrying a torch for her, intends to visit her during the drive.  Larry McMurtry sub-plots furiously, with characters constantly hiving off from the drive or running into it.  His characters encounter one another, part company with one another, are reunited with one another and, occasionally, kill one another.

 

One thing that’s striking about Lonesome Dove is the underlying randomness and arbitrariness of it all.  Big events happen but often the reasons causing them to happen are fleeting whims, snap decisions or simple happenstance.  The pragmatic and unimaginative Call isn’t normally taken in by Jake’s bullshit but, somehow, he falls for his tales about Montana, with the result that the Hat Creek Cattle Company uproots itself and goes.  The bemused Gus tells him, “I hope it makes you happy…  Driving these skinny cattle all that way is a funny way to maintain an interest in life, if you ask me.”  Elsewhere, July Johnson didn’t particularly like his dead dentist / mayor brother (“Once when he had pulled a bad tooth of July’s he had charged the full fee”) and regards his death as an accident, but is bullied into going after Jake by his widowed sister-in-law.

 

What sets all these things in motion is the fact that in the Fort Smith saloon where Jake got himself into trouble, someone unwisely left a loaded shotgun propped against the wrong part of the wall.  If this was how the West was won, Lonesome Dove suggests, it was by accident rather than design.

 

Similarly, the subplots often don’t resolve themselves in the way you expect, or don’t resolve themselves at all.  The long-awaited showdown between Jake and July, for example, never happens because both characters get distracted by other events – Jake falling in with the Suggs brothers and soon being party to worse things than the accidental shooting of a dentist, and July learning that his dissatisfied wife has taken advantage of his absence to run away from Fort Smith and setting off in pursuit of her instead.  And the expected subplot whereby the vengeful Pedro Flores pursues the Hat Creek Cattle Company to get his animals back never materialises for, soon afterwards, Call and Gus receive word that Flores has suddenly died.  (“I never expected that…”  “I never either, but then I don’t know why not.  Mexicans don’t have no special dispensation.  They die like the rest of us.”)

 

Meanwhile, the mid-point of the book is shocking for how the plot-threads of three characters, in whom the reader has invested a lot of time and sympathy, are abruptly terminated.  I’d like to think McMurtry did this for dramatic effect, though I suspect he just realised his plotting was becoming too tangled and he needed to prune it.

 

©Picador

 

Talking of being shocking, there are times, especially when Blue Duck and the Suggs Brothers are centre-stage, when Lonesome Dove veers off into the gruelling, blood-soaked territory inhabited by another famous western novel that appeared in 1985, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.  However, despite its occasional darkness, Lonesome Dove contains much more humanity, warmth and optimism than McCarthy’s nihilistic gorefest / prose-poem.

 

It also isn’t afraid to evoke the conventions that were staples of the westerns of yore and I wonder how a young 21st century readership would react to some of those conventions today.  The western was traditionally a genre where ‘a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do’ and it paid little attention to feminist sensibilities.  Accordingly, some may find the character of Lorena problematic, since she starts the novel as a hard-assed grifter but steadily becomes more dependent on the men around her.  First, she falls for Jake, and then she falls for Gus, who rescues her after she’s been abducted by Blue Duck.  That said, the rancher Clara Allen is one of the toughest and wisest characters in the book.  Near the end, she gets a chance to speak her mind to Call, somebody she’s always had a low opinion of: “You men and your promises: they’re just excuses to do what you plan to do anyway, which is leave.  You think you’ve always done right – that’s your ugly pride, Mr Call…  You’re a vain coward, for all your fighting.  I despised you then for what you were, and I despise you now, for what you’re becoming.”

 

Another old Western convention that’s less palatable nowadays is that of having native Americans as the bad guys.  And in Lonesome Dove, Blue Duck and his henchmen are particularly and memorably vile.  But in McMurtry’s defence, I’d argue that more often the natives featured in the novel are impoverished, pitiful and dispossessed due to the remorseless encroachment of the White Man.  At one point, for instance, Call donates a few of the company’s steers to a band of starving Wichita tribespeople.  It’s insinuated that if people are treated cruelly, some at least will come to behave cruelly too.  Interestingly, Clara shows no concern about a Sioux chief called Red Cloud who’s on the warpath in her neighbourhood because, she explains to July, her late husband behaved honourably to Red Cloud and his people once.  “I know Red Cloud…  Bob was good to him.  They lived on our horses that hard winter we had four years ago – they couldn’t find buffalo…  Bob treated them fair and we’ve never had to fear them.”

 

Also, though Call and Gus’s earlier line of work as rangers frequently involved them killing native Americans who violently objected to the US government’s policies towards them, Gus at least questions the wisdom of what they did.  This is especially so now that the White Man’s ‘civilisation’ – as epitomised by ‘the bankers’ – is moving in and taking over.  “Does it ever occur to you that everything we done was probably a mistake…?” he asks Call.  “Me and you done our work too well.  We killed off most of the people that made this country interesting to begin with.”

 

Later, he speculates that a time will come when the bankers will need to kill the likes of him off too.  Which, in a roundabout way, makes this densely plotted and ruggedly entertaining novel a forerunner to David Mackenzie’s excellent modern-day western movie about cowboys versus bankers, 2016’s Hell or High Water.

 

From facebook.com

So un-macho

 

© Library of Congress / From unsplash.com

 

An extremely right-wing author and essayist recently caused an uproar by saying something offensive on social media.  That’s hardly news these days.  Anyway, impelled by morbid curiosity, I checked out said author and essayist’s blog.  No, I’m not going to provide a link to it because the dribbling jackanapes has already received enough free publicity.  One remark on that blog caught my eye and made me think, though.  It was a description of President, soon-to-be ex-President, Donald Trump as  ‘the alpha-male of alpha-males’.

 

Let me get this straight.  Donald Trump is not only an alpha-male, but is the most alpha-male going?  You’ve got to be kidding.

 

The last four years and, indeed, most of the past 74 years that Trump has been on the planet are peppered with instances that show him to be not so much an alpha-male as an alpha-wuss.  Indeed, the past month-and-a-half since the US presidential election, when Joe Biden handed Trump his arse on a plate by massively winning both the popular vote and the electoral college, has shown him to be even more pathetic than normal.

 

Seeing Trump react to defeat with a display of whiny, shrieky, stamping-his-little-feet, waving-his-little-fists, chucking-his-toys-out-of-the-pram petulance doesn’t make me think of some muscled, lantern-jawed, bare-chested, testosterone-oozing specimen of maleness swaggering his way through a Hollywood action movie.  Rather, it makes me think of the obnoxious Violet Elizabeth Bott, the lisping little girl in Richmal Crompton’s William books (1922-70) who, when anyone refused to let her have her way, would threaten: “I’ll thcream and thcream and thcream till I’m thick!”  Or of Veruca Salt, the monstrously spoilt little girl in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964), who proved so unbearable that Willie Wonka’s squirrels ended up throwing her down a garbage chute to the factory’s incinerator.

 

Ironically, the right-wing dingbats who support Trump often lament the decline of good old-fashioned masculine values, thanks to, as they see it, assaults in recent decades by feminists, liberals, socialists, gay rights activists, trans activists, etc.  In fact, if you look at the best-known embodiments of traditional masculine values, as portrayed on the cinema screen, you’ll see that their hero Trump displays none of those values himself.  He falls laughably short in comparison.  Imagine how he’d react and behave if he were in the shoes of Hollywood’s most famous macho-men during their most famous movies.

 

© Gordon Company / Silver Pictures / 20th Century Fox

 

Take Bruce Willis, for example – an actor who’s well-known for his conservative leanings but who hasn’t, despite scurrilous rumours, shown much enthusiasm for Trump.  As Detective John McClane in Die Hard (1988), Willis attends a Christmas party being held in a skyscraper by the company that employs his estranged wife.  There’s an unwanted festive surprise when a gang of German terrorists show up, seize the building and hold the partygoers hostage.  McClane, who blames the company for his marriage’s break-up and wasn’t feeling comfortable at the party, nonetheless ducks into the nearest ventilation shaft and spends the film crawling around and picking off the terrorists one by one until order has been restored.  You couldn’t imagine Trump selflessly doing any of that.  Actually, someone of his orange bulk would manage to crawl about two inches along the ventilation shaft before getting stuck.

 

No, Trump, the self-proclaimed master of ‘the art of the deal’, would be more like the character of Harry Ellis (Hart Bochner).  Ellis is a sleazy company executive who thinks he can bargain with the terrorists and get them to agree to a plan to lure McClane out of hiding.  “Hey babe, I negotiate million dollar deals for breakfast!” he brags in Trumpian fashion.  “I think I can handle this Eurotrash!”  Too late does the hapless Ellis realise that the terrorists have been stringing him along and don’t intend to honour their side of the bargain.  Inevitably, their leader, Vladimir Putin… sorry, Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) puts a bullet through his head.

 

Or take Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican who’s publicly dissed Trump for his appalling record on the environment.  In Schwarzenegger’s most famous role, as the reprogrammed-to-be-good Terminator in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), Schwarzenegger realises at the movie’s finale that the central processing unit in his head is the last remaining piece of technology that might enable the machines to take over the world.  So, nobly, he decides he has to be destroyed for the good of humanity and asks Sarah and John Connor (Linda Hamilton and Edward Furlong) to lower him into a vat of molten metal.  Could you imagine Trump being so self-sacrificing?  “I am NOT going in that vat of molten metal!  There’s no CPU in my head!  That’s fake news!  This is the most corrupt decision in the history of my country!  This never happened to Obama…!”  And so on.

 

Probably Trump would prefer to model himself on the bad Terminator played by Schwarzenegger in the first Terminator movie (1984), since that character has traits that the Gross Orange One admires: zero empathy, total ruthlessness, no qualms about using its arsenal of heavy-duty weaponry to blow away anything that defies it.  However, with Trump as the Terminator, the movie would last five minutes.  The Trump-Terminator arrives in 1984 Los Angeles…  Naked, it approaches a group of street-punks (including good old Bill Paxton, who exclaims, “This guy’s a couple of cans short of a six-pack!”)…  Then the street-punks beat it to death.

 

© The Malpaso Company / Warner Bros

 

Who else?  Clint Eastwood, yet another Hollywood Republican who’s been muted about Trump (and in 2020 promised to support Mike Bloomberg if he became the Democrats’ presidential candidate)?  Eastwood built up his iconic macho persona during Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy in the 1960s.  Not only was he The Man with No Name, but he was a man of few words.  He’d squint, keep his jaws clamped around a cigar and unnerve his opponents with a contemptuous silence.  You couldn’t imagine a brash, loud gobshite like Trump, someone whose mouth is five minutes ahead of his brain, doing that.

 

In fact, Eastwood in his other most famous role, as Detective Harry Callaghan, aka Dirty Harry,  offers advice in Magnum Force (1973) that Trump would have been wise to heed: “Man’s got to know his limitations.”

 

John Wayne?  In Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959) and El Dorado (1966), Wayne plays a town sheriff who’s loyal to and protective of his staff – Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson and Walter Brennan in the earlier film, Robert Mitchum, James Caan and Arthur Hunicutt in the later.  Even when Mitchum develops a severe alcohol problem in El Dorado, Wayne puts up with his drunken bullshit and does his best to straighten the guy out.  It’s impossible to imagine the same of Trump, whose four-year tenure in the White House has seen a parade of cringing and crooked underlings being recruited and then, the moment they displease their master, being dumped again.  The loyal-only-to-himself Trump would have pointed a finger at Mitchum and sneered, “You’re fired!”

 

© Armada Productions / Warner Bros

 

Steve McQueen?  McQueen’s most famous role was as the prisoner of war Hilts in The Great Escape (1963), which would have earned him Trump’s disgust immediately.  As he once notoriously declared of John McCain, “He’s a war hero because he was captured.  I like heroes who weren’t captured!”  In fact, McQueen breaks out of the POW camp in Escape but then gets recaptured when his motorbike fails to clear a barbed wire fence on the Swiss border, which I suppose makes him a double loser in Trump’s eyes.

 

In fact, Trump is devoid of the qualities I recognised in the masculine icons with whom I grew up: being loyal, being selfless, doing the right thing, playing fair, saying only things that are worth saying, sticking up for the underdog, being magnanimous in victory, being graceful in defeat.  Then again, this is unsurprising when you see the Neanderthals who support him signalling their masculinity by gathering in mobs outside state legislative buildings, clad in combat fatigues and totting automatic rifles, to protest the implementation of safety measures against Covid-19.  These would-be warriors are too wimpy to countenance wearing small pieces of cloth over their mouths and nostrils to protect their fellow citizens.  Clearly, their notions of masculinity have nothing to do with the qualities I’ve listed above.  Rather, they’re all to do with intimidating, bullying and hurting people.

 

If that’s what masculinity is about, I’ll be glad to see the back of it.  And I’ll be especially glad to see the back of its biggest proponent, the one in the White House – who on January 20th goes from being the alpha-male to being the alpha-fail.

 

© Stewart Bremner