Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Squeeze (1977)

          Produced in England and featuring the same sort of seedy criminals who pervade such UK crime classics as Get Carter (1971) and The Long Good Friday (1980), this slow burn of a picture boasts a terrific leading performance by Hollywood actor Stacy Keach—so long as you disregard his patchy version of a British accent—and a believably grimy tone. Keach plays Jim, a loser who drank himself out of a job as a police detective and botched his marriage in the process. When we meet him, he’s so far down the spiral that he gets arrested for public inebriation and thrown into a drunk tank, then walks out of jail the next day and heads for the nearest pub.
          Duty calls when gangsters kidnap Jim’s ex-wife, Jill (Carol White), and the young daughter she’s raising with her new husband, Foreman (Edward Fox). Foreman enlists Jim’s aid in tracking down the perpetrators, but in his sodden state, Jim is initially no match for brutal crime boss Vic (Stephen Boyd) and his brilliant but sociopathic underling, Keith (David Hemmings). Jim is captured while attempting to probe Vic’s estate, so Vic humiliates the would-be hero by having him beaten senseless, stripped naked, pumped full of booze, and then deposited back in his own neighborhood without a stitch of clothing. Meanwhile, Keith torments Jill under threat of harming her daughter, forcing her to strip for his goons and provide sexual favors. Bubbling under the whole affair is a blackmail scheme, because Foreman is an executive at an armored-car service, so instead of ransom, Vic demands help arranging a massive heist.
          What makes The Squeeze unique is the twist it provides on the usual crime-movie formula. Whereas most filmmakers would show a character like Jim making subtle moves as he prepares a climactic rescue, the folks behind The Squeeze show that Vic and his goons are fully aware of Jim’s machinations, but don’t consider him a threat because he’s such a wreck. And, for much of the movie’s running time, their assessment proves correct. Jim reacts to hardships by retreating into alcohol, even though he knows that innocent people will pay terrible prices for his choices. All of this dark drama is set to a driving and eerie score by David Hentschel, which pops with synthesizer-laden prog-rock flourishes. Had The Squeeze benefited from a sharper script, the grim concepts marbled through the story could have elevated the piece into rarified terrain. As is, the picture is an interesting near-miss containing several fine performances.
          In particular, Irish actor Boyd—appearing in one of his final films—gives a disquieting turn as an unsophisticated brute, employing his natural accent instead of hiding behind the Americanized speaking style he used during his Hollywood career. (Boyd is a long way from his vapid he-man turns in such widescreen epics as 1959’s Ben-Hur and 1964’s The Fall of the Roman Empire.) Hemmings and Keach deliver exemplary work, though each actor played similar notes in other films; debauched villains were a staple of Hemmings’ filmography dating back to Camelot (1967), and Keach’s definitive drunk-loser performance was in John Huston’s bleak drama Fat City (1972). Yet even if The Squeeze isn’t a defining moment for anyone involved, it’s executed with menace and skill, and it’s among the toughest pieces ever helmed by the prolific English director Michael Apted, who is generally best known for documentaries and sensitive melodramas.

The Squeeze: GROOVY

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