In 1970s London, Scotland Yard orchestrates the downfall of mob boss Vic Dakin after he crosses the line by blackmailing Members of Parliament.
What you looking at? Villain is directed by Michael Tuchner and adapted to the screen by Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais and Al Lettieri from the novel The Burden of Proof written by James Barlow. It stars Richard Burton, Ian McShane, T.P. McKenna, Donald Sinden, Nigel Davenport, Fiona Lewis, Joss Ackland, Cathleen Nesbitt, Colin Welland and Tony Selby. A Panavision/Technicolor production, music is by Jonathan Hodge and cinematography by Christopher Challis. Ruthless London gangster Vic Dakin (Burton) agrees to orchestrate the robbery of a wages van. However, when it is requested for him to work with another gangster’s firm, Dakin is less than enthused, especially as his private life is hanging heavy on his shoulders. 1971 saw the release of the magnificent Get Carter, surely a benchmark film in the pantheon of British neo-noirs. The year also witnessed Straw Dogs and A Clockwork Orange bursting forth to bother the tabloids and gnaw away at the paying public’s conscious, there really was something stirring In the violent belly of Blighty. There was also another very violent British film out in 71, Villain, a criminally overlooked slice of grim Britannia. Richard Burton, he a bastion of rugged masculinity and hard drinking legends, is here playing a sadistic homosexual gangster with a paunch. He is not beyond using a razor to enact retribution on a squealer, or to beat his boyfriend Wolfie Lissner (McShane) before making love to him, but he loves his mother beyond compare though! This was a tough sell to Burton fans one would think, which may go some way to explaining why it disappeared quickly and has still to this day been largely consigned to cult status appraisals only. In fact some of the more intimate scenes between Burton and McShane were cut, so the supposed fall out could have been worse. I say supposed because there’s conflicting stories as to how the film actually performed at the box office… Viewing it now reveals Villain to be a biting piece of British cinema, often uncompromising and filled to the brim with character’s either damaged or carrying around some sort of affliction or kinky trait. It is pure neo-noir, both in characterisations and narrative drive. Dakin is a maelstrom of tortured emotions, his anger issues frightening but off set by his mother fixation. Wolfie is a bisexual pimp and in a rut, Gerald Draycott (Sinden) is the MP with a thirst for sex getting in deeper than he can handle and on it goes. Thug with an ulcer, hapless girlfriends, snitch, blackmail, murder, violence unbound, nudity, sadism and two hard bastard coppers not beyond giving someone a few lumps to get what they need. Then of course there is the robbery itself, a chase and heist sequence of events that are excellently constructed by the makers. The script pings with menacing humour and the writers have a good ear for London dialogue. The London backdrops are classic early 70s monuments and iconic period points of interest, all photographed in that grubby low key way that sits perfectly with the unfolding story. Cast is a who’s who of British actors of the time, and all perform well up to standard to make this a riveting and potent viewing experience. There were some complaints about Burton’s accent, but it really isn’t that bad and only becomes noticeable when he is called on to shout. Burton is great, a bold role gets a bold performance and it is definitely one of his most under valued turns. Not as brill as Get Carter, but it’s something of a must see for any fan of British gangster films, while it actually makes for the perfect companion piece to Michael Caine’s magnum opus. 8.5/10
Quite a few big stars tried their hands at these gritty, criminal underworld, style stories in the early 1970s and this rather procedural effort was Richard Burton's. Doubtless he was well paid, but his performance here is nowhere near his best. He is "Dakin" - a sort of Kray-esque character who runs an organised crime network extorting protection money from small businesses. A violent man, he takes his anger out on foe and friend alike but must learn to co-operate when the chance to hijack a lucrative factory payroll presents itself to him and his rival "Fletcher" (TP McKenna). Meantime his favourite "Wolfe" (Ian McShane) also suffers from his fury - and shares his bed - and he dotes after his ailing and aged mother (Catherine Nesbit). As crime thrillers go, this is all rather dreary. It's really predictable with a very stilted and unimaginative script, little character development and a star who just didn't impose himself on the story or the screen as I had expected. A decent supporting cast of well known faces tries hard to beef it up, but somehow the sense of menace is just lacking. Perhaps it resonated more then with tales of political corruption in the 1960s still fresh in the public conscience and also with the recent repealing of the anti-homosexual legislation in the UK, but now - 50 years later - is completely forgettable fayre.