||Network on Air's streaming service has hit upon the idea of using the brand's extensive film library for a series of double bills, inspired by the way to watch movies that only started to be widely phased out in the nineteen-eighties. Before that, tradition dictated that if you attended your local cinema before then, you would be treated to a set of two films, plus advertisements, trailers and even short films to supply what would be regarded as a full evening's entertainment (or indeed a full afternoon's entertainment). One of the double bills Network has offered up sees Welsh wonder Stanley Baker taking centre stage in a couple of crime efforts.
First up is Robbery, the 1967 thriller that secured director Peter Yates the job at the helm of Steve McQueen's iconic, San Franciscan police yarn Bullitt the following year. This was down to a car chase that opened Robbery, so adeptly handled by Yates that McQueen knew immediately he was the right man for the job, and indeed you can see him using the same techniques in the British movie that served him so well in the Hollywood one. There was no music, for instance, as the roar of the vehicles' engines was judged sufficient to convey the drama of the situation, though Yates, who co-wrote, included a climactic accident that a Hollywood movie would balk at.
That was when a group of children are being guided across the street by a Lollipop Man and the criminals, laughing, neatly plough into them in their bid to shake off the pursuing police car. It's a coldhearted, callous touch to a beginning that allows the audience to know in no uncertain terms these men are ruthless and not to be trusted by us watching, they are no gentleman bandits, they are pretty despicable solely out for their own personal gain. This leads us to the real reason for the film: a recreation, in fictional style, of the so-called Great Train Robbery of 1963, where a gang held up a locomotive carrying millions of pounds and became a cause celebre in the media.
They also gave life-changing injuries to the driver, which must have influenced the portrayal of the granite-faced crims we witnessed here, led by Baker who is as unsentimental about the heist as the film is about the entire plot. We see him at home with his wife Joanna Pettet, and we think yeah, yeah, same old love interest clichés, but it's not till the end and we realise how he has treated her that we twig what kind of ruthless piece of work he is. Although Frank Finlay as the reluctant recruit (sprung from jail!) and his uxorious reasons for throwing the scheme into jeopardy were a shade contrived, elsewhere it was a film that had a certain authenticity to its depiction of career criminals, and was an obvious influence on the later British cop television shows like The Sweeney (even down to the cars). All in all, a hard hitting tale of some very nasty men.
There is an intermission between these two films, and it is filled by advertisements of the day, the day being the late nineteen-sixties and early seventies. In the consumer camp are promotions for Walls' ice cream in a variety of flavours, Benson & Hedges' Sovereign cigarettes which are equated with actual sovereign coins, and Dick Emery doing one of his vox pop spoofs with a saucy joke the adults would get and pushing a department store - how about some central heating as well, because obviously the first thing you want to hear about at the pictures is your radiators. Then there's a double bill of trailers, for The House in Nightmare Park and The Man Who Haunted Himself.
They are available on the Network website as well, of course, but what of the second half of this Baker's, er, two? That would be another heist movie, more because they were in fashion around this time rather than being a particular favourite of the leading man, but Perfect Friday was a lot more lighthearted than Robbery. Baker played a banker, but not someone in a position of huge power, he has the ability to say yea or nay to your loans, and that's about it; when one client enters his office, he thinks little of her, he's seen these needy types before and is not about to have his emotions melted by a mild sob story from someone who could patently cope without it.
Ah, but that person is Ursula Andress, and she has a seductive quality about her that Baker is unprepared for, so when she invites him to take her out to dinner after the working day is done, he is so taken aback he agrees. This acceptance seals his fate as she draws him into a web of intrigue: how about they end her money woes by robbing the bank? A bit of a leap to that point you would have thought, but Baker has been straitjacketed by his job to the extent that he has no real social life, certainly no romance, and lives to work in his occupation which, thanks to some evocative production design, looks as if it takes place in a prison with glass cells, one occupied by our hero.
Therefore, if he is already in a prison, why not risk breaking out? Andress not only broadens his financial horizons, but his sexual ones as well, as in around half her scenes she plays them sans clothes, leaving little to the imagination and proof that the seventies was going to be the decade that screen nudity really took off (this was released in 1970); basically you were nobody in that era if you were not whipping off your togs in front of a camera lens. Back at the plot, this wanton display is in flagrant disrespect to her character's husband, a British Earl played by David Warner in unsympathetic form. Can Andress persuade him to be an accomplice in the robbery of the bank?
Bear in mind this is a high-tech bank for 1970, which used all sorts of modern ingenuities a clever thief would connive to get around, which naturally nowadays are so dated as to appear positively archaic. Yet that modern sensibility was important to the director Peter Hall, the famed theatre talent who staged many an important play, but whose cinematic career did not take off in the same manner: in fact he did better on television, and even that did not match the theatre work. Here he was dressing up what was a fairly straightforward caper flick, the twists notwithstanding, with stylings that used to be termed modish, if anything a tad outdated by 1970, though would have looked acceptable in 1969: culture moved fast back then. That said, if this self-consciously flashy technique appealed, nostalgic or not, then Perfect Friday would be, well, perfect for you.
These double bills are a nostalgic in the right way rendition of the sort of evenings out of yesteryear that so many Brits would experience, and as the prints of the films are pristine, reminiscent of what they would be like to watch as new. Click here to join the Network website.