“His face is like an old glove that doesn’t quite fit and has had to be taken in here and there”


Now then, what film’s that from? It’s on the back of an old copy of Villain, with an X after the title on the video box to show what it’s certificate should be and that this is a hardcore film even though in the days that this tape was made there were no censorship certificates for videos (hence video nasties).


It’s always stuck in my mind this here film has. The chap who taught me screenprinting got me watching it one day round his flat, in amongst all the cat hair, dope smoke, Throbbing Gristle albums and the like.


I’m glad he did. It’s an absolute classic semi-lost piece of truly British cinema.


It’s the story of gangster Vic Dakin, played by Richard Burton who looks gone to seed, past his prime and has a seedy and decayed feel to him but he’s still a hard man who uses and enjoys violence, what it can do for him and the way it keeps his world in place.


The whole film has a seedy and decayed feel to it and there’s a a sense that it reflects Britain’s decay in general, the optimism and affluence of post-war values falling into disrepair, bobbies on the take down Soho and a seam of almost giving up running right through the country... like later Carry On films, all tits and titillation down the seafront, Sid’s laugh having changed from a life cheering innocent skullduggery to something a bit darker and more worrying.


Or maybe that’s just me but I don’t think it is. This is 1971 and the police drive Morris Minors, which is a ridiculous yet endearing site and it looks almost like a foreign country.


I worked in a furniture shop for a while with a chap who was 50 and would’ve been about seventeen when this came out and he used to say that he always thought of the world as being in black and white until a particular year. This film’s reminds me of those times in dear old England, with those strangely shaped old vans tottering away in the background and the men’s haircut’s longer than you’d expect for blokes but having that unstyled look from pre-hair gel and style culture days.


…and I don’t know why but I love gay gangster stories. There’s something terrribly attractive about these lovely hard blokes being poofs but not at all poofy. The main character in The Long Firm sending for his boy, his chaps telling the pretty young thing that Harry likes him. There’s no shame or fear there. It’s the same in Villain, Dakin loves his mum and almost the same words are used.


It’s apparently based on “East End fact” (the back of the video box again, avoiding a battering from bad mouthing certain famous older gangsters).


Like when Vic Dakin has his pretty boy come round, tells him off for selling drugs, the strangely truncated “don’t like it” almost not ringing true but seeming just so… and punching his “nice peasant boy” in the stomach as he gets undressed for sex, tells him that he’ll take him up the West End tomorrow and get him some nice suits… and I wander if sex was always like this between them, Dakin connecting with his boy through violence or is he just punishing him for the dope?


When his boy’s posh totty lets herself into the flat Burton/Dakin’s properly frightening, the boy tries to make light of it, says “she’s just some posh ????” but Vic isn’t having any of it. The boy tells her to leave, he’s staying with Vic… ...and just to add to the oddness Dakin's wearing the short pale blue dressing gown that his boy was wearing earlier, the boy wearing an almost matching blue shirt..


…and he really needs him. When his mum dies he tells him this and you get to see flashes of vulnerability and genuine human need.


…and though the film has  a strangely stilted feel to it, partly a bit of a cheap feel even though there’s this big star headlining it, I’m just gripped throughout. There’s classic gangster-ish lines in it (the main robbery goes wrong and one of them says “it’s all gone rotten Vic”… “get your head down it’s covered in claret”) but it doesn’t feel like the laddish flash’n’dash of late-nineties British gangster films. These are real men, solid, no fucking about blokes.


This tape’s from 1981. Nearly 25 years old and my video can’t quite handle it, I think ‘cause it was before videos were recorded in hi-fi. It’s a proper artifact with an almost intellectual and literary write-up on the back that you just wouldn’t see in today’s world.


The only other time I’ve ever seen a copy of this is in Corniche video in Soho, in one of the streets that runs between Old Compton Street and Shoo square that I can never quite remember the name of it and it’s always a semi-accident when I find it first time.


Genuine film buffs run the video rental part, they order films according to director and had films in there that I’d never seen anywhere else and if you wanted to join you had to leave your card details or a big old cheque ‘cause they used to have stuff borrowed and nicked all the time.


This was in the days before online film rentals and DVD re-releases of everything, so oddball films were a lot more of a rareity.


Aside from that, the video rental part is a front for the porn back section and I guess they’ve done the arty/culty video stuff rather than just piling it up with old remaindered books and the like.


It’s always seemed appropriate that this was the only other place I’ve ever seen  a copy of it.