Moon is a bit of a lad. His clothes are stylish, his car is sporty, he can always get a table in a busy restaurant, and his taste in women is, well, you can probably guess. And you'd better not mess with him. No sir. Quite what he does for a living, however, remains uncertain for a good third of the 1971 film bearing his name, which was re-titled Man of Violence for general release, handily avoiding present confusion with a certain indie science fiction piece that's angling for cult status.
That we're in the world of the London Criminal is clear from the opening scene, where a restaurant is smashed up by professional villain Hunt and his boys when the owner won't play ball. But is Moon part of this crowd, a private dick, or a maverick muscle for hire? Clarification is not really provided by the well-spoken Nixon, who offers him a wad of cash to do a job for shifty property speculator Sam Bryant. Moon wants half the money up front, but when he collects it from the church in which it's been hidden, someone tries to kill him. Fortunately Moon is not just sharp, he also carries a gun and is able to quickly dispose of his assailant. Mind you, it's hard to work out why he had to collect the money from there anyway, given that a few minutes later he's sitting down for a pre-arranged meet with the very chappie who put in there in the first place.
Nixon, and by association Bryant, wants Moon to sort out the people who've been messing with properties on Bryant's development patch. A dropped wallet points a finger at the aforementioned Hunt, but it's Hunt's boss Grayson that Bryant and Nixon really want flushed out. By this point we're aware that Moon and Grayson may have some history, as just minutes earlier Moon phoned him up and blew a dog whistle into the handset to deafen him. The furious Grayson orders Hunt to bring Moon in, but after somehow surprising our boy (how a bright button like Moon didn't see Hunt sitting in his car before opening the door is beyond me), Hunt is disarmed, pistol whipped and dumped by the roadside. Moon drops in on Grayson anyway and the two chat like old chums. Grayson, it turns out, has also recently employed Moon, and do you want to guess which crooked property speculator he's been hired to investigate? Moon openly admits to Grayson that he's working for both parties and even returns Hunt's dropped wallet, but hangs onto the coded notebook he discovers within. The plot doesn't so much thicken as baffle. Just what, exactly, is going on here?
Moon – and he's never known by any other name – is an intriguing if not immediately sympathetic melding of elements from other characters from the period and locale, from the playboy hedonism of Jason King to the earthy cynicism of Man at the Top's Joe Lampton. But before exponents of Lad Culture start championing a rediscovered icon of their unpleasant breed, know that Moon will happily go where his contemporaries would doubtless shudder to tread – when he can't get all the information he needs from his respectable but secretly gay government contact, Moon sleeps with the man's boyfriend (he's introduced as his secretary, but come on) to get what he needs instead.
Man of Violence was the product of changing times, when the optimistic liberation of the sixties was giving way to seventies mistrust, an attitude shift that gave birth to a string of gruff antiheroes who were not necessarily that likeable but were at the very least interesting. Moon is certainly that, though as played by Michael Latimer (later to make guest appearances in genre favourites The Sweeney, The New Avengers and The Professionals) he lacks the instant charisma of a Harry Palmer or a Jack Regan and thus has to work a bit to engage his audience. He's helped by a smarter-than-it-seems script and his own refusal to conform to anybody's way of thinking, casting him as a cynical rebel even within the amoral London criminal fraternity.
The action is limited to a handful of violent assaults, two murders, and a chase through the streets of Tunis with audible gunshots but no visible guns, so it's up to the plot and characters to hold the interest and for the most part they do rather well. Largely decent performances help, with Derek Aylward bringing a touch of social sophistication to Nixon that separates him from the traditional barrow boy heavy, a degree of class that Grayson (Maurice Kaufmann) clearly aspires to but hasn't quite the self-control to pull off. Kenneth Hendel plays his chief goon Hunt with an amusing degree of sexual ambivalence, and his creative attempts to disguise his hair loss almost belong on the catwalk.
The plot continues to unravel as Moon becomes involved with escort girl Angel, who's not what she seems, and events are repeatedly shadowed by a moustached and pipe smoking figure who is very likely exactly what he seems. Or is he? There's just enough nudity to establish the film as adult fare, but not really enough to trade on, and it's presumably fear of censorship that leaves us to wonder just what sexual tortures are unleashed on Angel by Hunt and Grayson's resident seductress Gale. International politics are even sprinkled into the mix, though we're still a good few years away from the more enlightened racial attitudes of today, with Moon dismissing the people Angel is trying to help as "a bunch of wog savages." What a guy.
Just occasionally the dialogue loses its smarts, notably in one jaw-dropping instance that plays almost like parody, as Nixon and Bryant discuss the details of their plan in a manner that makes no sense in conversational terms and appears to be staged purely to lay things out for the listening Moon and Angel, whose hiding place these two criminal buffoons have conveniently positioned themselves right next to. But elsewhere the characters are well served by the screenplay, with Moon's curt world-weariness extending to his restaurant etiquette (when the waiter suggests lobster he instead demands a glass of water and a dry biscuit), while Grayson's irritable speech to Angel before handing her over to Gail and Nixon momentarily gives him the air of Bond villain whose evil plan has been frustrated for the very last time.
The film's inclusion in the BFI's Flipside strand was doubtless prompted in no small part by its status as an early work of cult horror director Pete Walker, who, apart from a couple of snarling close-ups when Moon is giving Hunt a seeing-to, is on surprisingly restrained form, though Cyril Ornadel's lively but stuck-in-time score does its best to convince you otherwise. Whether Walker gets the balance of action and chat right is debatable, and once everyone nips off to Tunis (where exactly on the aircraft did Moon and Angel store that Volkswagen Camper?) the film pauses to sightsee instead of wrapping things up as it should. But don't be fooled by this Tunisian froth – the ending shifts the film right back into coldly cynical territory and is considerably more downbeat than earlier events will lead you to expect.
Man of Violence is a brisk dose of early 70s exploitation with an enjoyable satirical edge that may not actually have been intended. In the booklet that accompanies this disc, Cathi Unsworth suggests that it's a hard film to easily define, and she may have a point, as despite its similarities to other genre works of the period, it's not quite like any of them. My favourite categorisation comes from Walker himself, who made it with an eye on the American drive-in market and regards it as one of his "kick bollocks and scramble films." Seriously, how could you top that?
There's no doubt about it, the BFI's Flipside strand is setting the bar for the restoration and transfer of British cinema of years past. And let's remember, we're not talking big name productions with studio sized restoration budgets, but little seen, low-budget films that are never going to find a wide audience. Yet once again the transfer is terrific, with very impressive level of detail, a pleasingly pastel colour palette, pitch-perfect contrast and rock solid black levels. Fine film grain is visible, there's the odd bit of flicker here and there and the final few shots are on the dark and dingy side (this could be intentional, of course), but in all other respects this is the business. The framing is 1.33:1, which we can presume was the original ratio.
The PCM 48K 24-bit mono 2.0 soundtrack inevitably has a narrower dynamic range than you'll find on more recent works and a slight bias towards the trebles on some of the dialogue, but there's not a hint of noise or background hiss, and the dialogue and music remain clear throughout.
Now when you click on a button marked 'Extras', even on a disc from the BFI, you don't expect to find a second feature film tucked in there, but that's what you get here. Not only that, you get two different cuts of it, which you could argue makes that a total of three features for the price of one. I'll cover the differences between the two edits when I look at the Export Version, but first of all...
The Big Switch Domestic Version (67:58)
Written, produced and directed by Pete Walker and released in 1969, this can be seen as something of a forerunner to Man of Violence, a crime thriller in which a cocksure single male finds himself manipulated by those at the higher end of the criminal food chain and ends up teamed with one of their female associates. The laddo in question here is John Carter, the sort of bloke who walks into a nightclub, eyes up the talent, cuts in on a dance and asks the girl if she wants a drink here or back at his place. What a smoothie. The real surprise is that Samantha, the girl in question, finds this all rather charming and suggests they go to her flat instead, which they proceed to do. All seems to be going well until Carter nips out for some cigarettes and Samantha is killed by a man hiding in her shower. Carter returns, discovers the body, leaves his fingerprints on the gun, and decides that phoning the police would just create trouble for him, so leaves her there and goes home.
The next day he's back at work as if nothing happened, which allows him to focus on posing female nudes for a deodorant advert he's art directing. Minutes later he's called to see the boss, who likes Carter a lot and think's he's good at his job, but has been ordered to let him go. Clearly this is not Carter's week. It's about to get worse. He returns home to find three shifty looking men and a half-naked woman playing poker in his flat. The head of this nefarious-looking group tells him he owes money that they're here to collect. He doesn't know what they're talking about and takes a beating for his trouble.* Not long after he's called back to the nightclub to see shifty owner Mendez (Derek Aylward, who also plays Nixon in Man of Violence), who has evidence linking him to Samantha's murder and offers him a way out of his predicament, an unspecified job that requires him to drive to Brighton and wait for instructions. Carter, whose options are rapidly narrowing, is reluctantly forced to accept.
Like Man of Violence, The Big Switch is an unflashy but workmanlike piece. Its performances vary a little and its lead character initially comes across as an even bigger dick than Moon, but like his successor that doesn't stop him from being interesting. It's also hard not to feel some sympathy for even the biggest twerp on the block when he is so clearly being shafted by people with even less scruples than he, even if you do suspect, as I did, that he's probably done plenty in the past to deserve it.
The film's strength, once again, lies in its plotting, which really does keep you guessing until it's ready to reveal it's secrets and whose explanation for what's going on does not insult the intelligence, though the framing of Carter for murder is revealed to have involved a sizeable cheat that really doesn't stand up to retrospective examination. The climactic hide-and-seek chase on Brighton pier also makes little dramatic sense – if you're going to stop a car somewhere to flee for your life, then a crowded shopping area or even a police station might better have served character purpose than a deserted amusement arcade, presumably chosen by Hunt because it looked like a neat place to stage a shoot-out.
For anyone who was involved in low-budget, pre-digital film production, there are a few small pleasures to be enjoyed in the economic corner-cutting, in the line of dialogue inserted to explain why the ground is suddenly covered with snow, in the quick glimpse of the film crew in a reflective door frame, in the gunshots created entirely though sound, and in the arctic wind sound effect too short to disguise the fact that it's a being repeatedly looped. Even the largely fat-free editing has an idiosyncratic blip, when two cars almost stall when pulling away and we then watch in real time as they wait for a gap in the traffic and struggle to pull out onto the main road.
I rather enjoyed The Big Switch, though do realise that it probably counts as a guilty pleasure and that precious few are likely to be championing it as a lost masterpiece. But the plot holds up to the last act, and it's hard to resist a film that ends with a jovial police official politely inviting the cold and shaken shoot-out survivors down to the cop shop for a nice cup of tea. And while it may be sitting in the extra features section of this disc, it's clearly been restored with the same care as Man of Violence, resulting in another first-rate and very filmic transfer, with nicely balanced contrast and a similar pastel palette to the main feature. Again the framing is 1.33:1.
The Big Switch Export Version (76:42)
As you may have noticed if you actually read those bracketed numbers, this version of the film is nine minutes longer than the domestic one, which suggests that the differences are all down to BBFC cuts. Not so. Although my expectations were that BBFC censorship was behind the decision to produce a separate version for export, it was one clearly a decision made at the shooting stage, with extra material shot for the export version and alternative footage for two scenes, one of which plays out very differently as a result. Some of the key differences are as follows.
The opening titles on the domestic version play over Carter's drive to the night club and Patrick Allen's Primitive London-style voice-over, while on the export version they play over a sexually orientated striptease by a well endowed black performer.
The deodorant photo shoot is rather coy about its nudity in the domestic version (see below), but includes some lingering shots of naked women in the export version, including full frontal shot with shaved pubic hair, a real no-no in the UK at the time.
Following the manhandling of Carter for photographic purposes, the two incumbent and very naked models give him a bit of a going over, a sequence not in the domestic cut.
The scene at the Brighton house in which Carter questions the girl charged with watching him (after bedding her of course) is covered in wide shot rather than the facial close-ups of the domestic cut, providing a clearer view the girl's semi-naked body and Carter's manhandling of the same. As it happens, the scene plays far better in the domestic version, the intimacy of the close-ups and the choice of angles being more dramatically effective.
Far and away the most dramatic difference is the poker game Carter discovers taking place in his flat and the assault on him that follows. In the domestic version, the head honcho's girl Sally is down to her underwear but strips no further, and when Carter won't play ball he is taken out of the room and can be heard taking a beating while Sally and her man have a quick snog in wide shot. This actually works rather well, leaving the details of the assault to our imagination, the violence of what we hear counterpointed but the gentle intimacy of what we see. In the export version it's a very different story. Here Sally is topless in no time, and when Carter is dragged though to the bedroom, she and her boyfriend follow to take part in the attack, with Carter held down by the goons and the still half-naked Sally giggling with delight as she burns him repeatedly with a lit cigar. As a sadistic torture scene it's pretty damned effective, or at least would be if the cigar actually looked lit or left scars in its wake. When they've finished, the boss man again gets friendly with his girl, but this time in mid-shot and with more overtly sexual nudity.
On the subject of nudity, there is a rather curious double standard in the domestic version that may just be Walker having a bit of fun. When Samantha goes into her bathroom, her fully naked reflection is clearly seen in the mirror, yet at the following day's photo shoot, camera angles, clothing and even body parts are carefully manipulated to ensure that the naked breasts of the two models are always just out of view. At one point a concealing arm is lowered just as the girls turn their backs to the camera, and the whole thing starts to feel like a trial run for comical hide-the-nudity sequence in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.
The other included extras are:
Man of Violence Trailer (2:59)
Moon means action! Moon means adventure! Moon means danger! A trailer in almost as good condition as the film itself, and with enough spoilers to ruin almost all of the plot surprises and an amusing action typeface.
The Big Switch Trailer (3:05)
Erotic nudity from the London scene! Again in spanking condition, it intriguingly contains footage from both the domestic and export versions, and plenty of nudity.
Man of Violence 'Moon' Title Card (0:05)
Just what it says, and five seconds long.
As ever, the accompanying booklet is a small treat, with an informative and learned essay on Man of Violence by Cathi Unsworth, a shorter but still interesting one on The Big Switch by David McGillivray, a piece on British exploitation cinema of the period by Julian Petley, Pete Walker's own enjoyable recollections on the making of both films, a Walker biography, credits from both films and some stills and artwork.
Let's be honest, we're not looking at two lost classics here, but as examples of British exploitation cinema of the period both are fascinating and enjoyable curios, and they do showcase a knack for plot development and dialogue that's not often associated with Walker's later horror works. Their key appeal, though, is their exemplary presentation – both have been very impressively restored and I have little doubt my enjoyment was enhanced by the quality of these transfers. Given that you get two feature films – three if you count both versions of The Big Switch – and a typically fine supporting booklet, the release also represents excellent value for money. Recommended.
* One of the goons is played by Derek Martin, more widely known now as Charlie in Eastenders, but also one of the key players in G.F. Newman's groundbreaking 1978 crime drama Law and Order.