Friday, 1 March 2013

The Myth of the Underworld

When I say myth, I am referring to the myths portrayed in British films.  For many years, all scripts for films had to presented to the Board of Film Censors, and the content had to be approved or a film faced either censorship or even being banned.  So an accurate portrayal of criminals was rare.  Some did sneak through such as "Hell is a City" with Stanley Baker, showing Police to be as tough as the villains.  But the film that really broke the mould was "The Strange Affair" with Michael York.  This was a loose take on disgraced detective Harold Challenor.  It also featured villains like never before; they were brutal, they killed without hesitation, they were involved in drugs, they had a top cop on the payroll.  All portrayals of the real underworld.

    You must put aside any thoughts that dredge up the Peter Sellers/Bernard Cribbins/Lionel Jeffries/Two Way Stretch/Wrong Arm Of The Law scenario of a comic underworld.  There are people who want to perpetuate that myth but the truth is out there.  Then we had "Performance" with James Fox & Mick Jagger.  Sex, drugs & rock n` roll!  Then the daddy of all British crime films came out; Get Carter with Michael Caine.  No "Cor blimey, guv" nonsense here.  Ruthless villains who kill mercilessly anybody who gets in their way.  Freddie Foreman & Tony "Gang Boss" Lambrianou claimed that no decent villain would harm a woman or fit up another villain.  Of course they would n `t.  We know most villains are the absolute salt of the earth!  Then we had other films like "Villain" and "The Squeeze."  Over the last number of years, we have had to suffer the "Mockney" films of Guy Ritchie and the others that have followed suit.

    One American film that did not flinch in showing betrayal was the brilliant "Friends of Eddie Coyle" with Robert Mitchum, Richard Jordan & Peter Boyle.  Mitchum played Coyle, a veteran thief facing a stretch in prison, who started giving up people he was supplying stolen guns to, in order to have his sentence quashed.  He was also supplying guns to a highly organised gang of bank robbers.  He knows that he could give up this crew but he would be killed soon after.  Eventually, after a lot of promises that led nowhere, he offers up the bank team but is told that they have been arrested after walking into a trap.  The team believe that Coyle had betrayed them and so an approach was made to a bar owner to take him out.  The barman (Peter Boyle) insists that he does it his way, as he knows all the area villains, and is their friend.  He gets Coyle drunk and shoots him whilst he is asleep.

    The killer punch is supplied at the end.  The barman tells the D.A. (Jordan) that Coyle has been killed and it sounds like revenge for the bank team.  Then the D.A. reassures him that because HE gave up the robbers, he has nothing to worry about, he looks after his friends!  The informant killed the man thought to have grassed up the bank team, when in fact it was he!  Naturally, London villains would never do that!

   Would they!!